Pakistan's corporate massacres

[This article was written on Friday 6 of November] Today, three days after the collapse of a factory in Lahore’s Sunder Industrial Estate, dozens of people remain buried under the rubble and the authorities have failed to remove the debris and rescue the injured or retrieve the dead bodies of the workers

The official death toll in this gruesome tragedy stood at 31 on Friday, and at least 102 survivors have already been pulled from the debris of the four-story Rajput Polyester polythene bag factory. The building came crashing down on Wednesday evening, trapping dozens of people inside. A spokesman for Rescue 1122 told the press that of the 167 people trapped in the building, 109 have been rescued, and most of them have minor injuries. But hopes are fading for anyone left alive as rescuers scrambled through the debris.

“There are less chances of finding more injured under the rubble but we are looking for dead bodies. We expect to find at least 25 more dead bodies in that part of the factory,” Arshad Zia, head of rescue services in Punjab, told AFP. According to this report, “It was unclear how many people were in the building when it collapsed or how many — dead or alive — may still be trapped, but officials have said at least 150 people were in the factory when it came down. Over 30 people are feared to still be trapped under the rubble, rescue sources said. But most workers that survived dispute official figures and told PTUDC activists who reached the site that 500 workers used to work in two shifts and those trapped under the rubble cannot be less than four hundred. These included children as young as seven years old. Most workers were immigrants from the primitive rural south Punjab, notorious for its poverty and deprivation. The site of the collapse is cordoned off by heavy contingents of the police, and even the media has only very limited access to it. Most workers and their relatives believe that the real casualties are much higher.

The Dawn report says that investigators are said to be looking for evidence of negligence on the part of the owner of the factory or the government department responsible for regulating industrial activities. Multiple sources have confirmed that the accident could have been avoided had the owner heeded warnings.  Workers had warned the owner a few days ago about severe vibrations in the building when newly installed machines were switched on. On Wednesday, a witness said that workers again expressed their fears to the factory owner, but he took them inside the building to show that their apprehensions were unfounded.

This appalling incident is not an exception. Such disasters are common and occurring with an increasing frequency in the so called ‘emerging’ emerging economies of the developing or the undeveloped, ex-colonial world. Factory building collapses, fires that gut the factories and burn the workers to death or permanent disablement, assassinations by the owners’ goons or the reactionary bourgeois state are common. In Pakistan many such ‘accidents’ in which kill or mutilate workers go unreported. The elite and their stooges shed crocodile tears. Such events get minute and distorted coverage in the corporate media and then disappear from the screens soon after, with other non-issues conjured up to diffuse any possibility mass revolt or a spontaneous outburst of the workers against such heinous crimes of the greedy and callous capitalist class.

Most media analyses portray superficial causes for such disasters, and none dare to touch the system that is the fundamental cause of such bestial accidents that are the outcome of the lust for the corporate profits. Administrative lapses and lack of checks and controls by the state officials are cited as the basic causes of these corporate massacres. The rulers along with the filthily rich ‘philanthropists’ announce compensation for the families of the dead and wounded, and the media televises them exuding the sorrow they have for the victims, whose lives were agonising due to the blatant exploitation and coercion of their labour. In this Sunder industrial estate there are 435 factories, and not in one do the workers have any right to organize or form unions.

One of the verbal ‘concessions’ to the investors was that practically no ‘labour inspector’ would have access to the wages, conditions, and infrastructure of the industries in which this drudgery takes place. There are hardly any permanent employees in these factories and almost all the labour comprises of contract workers with no rights whatsoever. The maximum wages of the victims of this tragedy were Rs. 9000, when the official minimum wage announced by the democratic regime is Rs. 15000.  The vast number of children and women that work in these industries get between 3000 and 6000 in wages per month. No provisions for medical insurance, health facilities, accident compensation, pensions, provident funds, living quarters, or other basic human safety needs are present in this setup.

It’s not just the small industrial units where workers toil under coercion in such harrowing conditions, but now, increasingly, the huge multinational corporations like Nestle or Lever Brothers are resorting to contract labour and other anti-worker practises. With the crumbling economy, rapidly falling investment, and increasing deprivation, the labour market is glutted and unemployment is surging with catastrophic consequences for the workers. Even with interest rates almost zero the bourgeoisie is reluctant to invest. They have lost any trust in their own system. With the undocumented and criminal black economy burgeoning to thrice the size of the formal economy, it’s nearly impossible to genuinely assess and analyse Pakistan’s actual economic condition. This black economy of crime, drug trading, and other sinister businesses manifests itself in form of terrorism; a corrupt state, politicians, and criminals dominate among Pakistan’s elite.

Whatever industrialisation has taken place is of an extremely uneven and combined character. The lack of basic infrastructure, dilapidated buildings, and nonexistent safety provisions of these industrial units have led Pakistan’s main newspaper to dub these facilities ‘factories of death’. In the sixty -eight years of its existence, Pakistan has been a combination of extreme primitiveness featuring islands of the most advanced technology and machinery. The weak economic and financial basis of the bourgeois has ruled over such patterns of socioeconomic development, where the infrastructure is based on the imperialist patterns of earning maximum profits with minimal investments. The capitalists have neglected the social conditions and structures - they are totally inadequate to develop and modernise society. This factory collapse above all shows the weak investment in the structures of fixed and constant capital. Electricity supplies, power generation, water resources, canals, transportation, and other sectors of the physical infrastructure are in decay. The social infrastructures of health and education are even worse and declining rapidly. The bourgeois, on one hand doesn’t invest the necessary amounts to develop modern industry, while at the same time this capitalism is so sick and sclerotic that they can’t garner suitable rates of profits by running their enterprises. Hence they plunder the state, evade taxes, steal power and gas, and get their bank loans written off through the various regimes, military or civilian, where they really invest for their existence.

Their exploitation and robbery knows no bounds. They have plundered the state and society for generations and yet their lust for ‘more’ seems to be insatiable. They have completed none of the demands of the national democratic revolution. In fact, this primitiveness has been only more vulgarised by modernisation under the rotten Pakistani capitalism. This has created a cultural, moral, ethical, and social disaster in the country. The artificial rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the product of this sick modernisation and the vacuum created by the collapse of the left. The betrayal of the PPP and trade union leadership has further aggravated the plight of the working classes. However there have been innumerable struggles of the workers after the democratic counter-revolution of the PPP leaders in the wake of Benazir’s assassination and the withering of the mass uprising of 2007. There is no political party that represents the workers, peasants and the oppressed even in name.

The masses have lost all faith in this political superstructure and the workers and the youth in general despise politics. Yet there is a seething anger and revolt in the womb of society below the surface. Sooner rather than later this is bound to erupt with volcanic explosions. Events such as this gruesome murder of the workers in this polythene factory by these mean and callous capitalists can trigger a mass revolt. Such events are bound to occur. The question is not whether the youth and workers will rise in revolt or not. The issue is whether there will be a revolutionary force strong enough to provide a leadership and direction to such an upsurge. The lack of any illusions in any political party will make the character of such a movement much more militant and furious. No leadership will be in a position to deviate or betray the movement. But what is needed is to build a Marxist leadership and party, hardened and tempered in this arduous period and stark objective conditions, that can lead the revolutionary masses when they enter the arena of history to transform their destiny.

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