On May Day in Pakistan, public meetings and protests were organised across the country to pay tribute to the martyrs of Chicago who gave their lives for the eight hour working day. More than 130 years later, the workers of Pakistan are still struggling for basic rights such as the eight hour day and week-end holidays. Here we bring a report of the interventions of the Pakistani Marxists of Lal Salaam across the country.
With every passing day the conditions of the Pakistani working class is worsening. The exploitation has reached new levels with millions of workers living in abject poverty, misery and disease. In the last few years, factory accidents has increased to unprecedented levels with workers dying on a regular basis due to boiler explosions, fire and collapsing roofs in factories and workplaces which where safety standards are miserable.. From multi-national companies to local industrialists everyone are trying to maximize profits on the basis of the life and blood of the workers. Wages have continuously been eaten up by inflation in last two decades. The minimum wage announced by the government for an unskilled worker is Rs. 15,000 ($140) per month for eight hours of daily work. Usually however, the workers are only paid of this amount.
In many places, wages are delayed for months after which it is often only paid partially - or sometimes not at all. Workers involved in public sector infrastructure projects face similar conditions. Public sector workers used to have better working conditions and wages, but in last two decades they have also been sent to the altar of the private sector based on the privatization policies, dictated by the IMF and the World Bank. No political party is however, speaking on behalf of the workers. All parties are involved with the government in one or another and are carrying out these anti-labour policies. The trade union movement has also been weakened over the years with most trade union leaders betraying the movement or resigning due to the heavy attacks of the ruling class.
Despite all of this, new movements are erupting and the labour movement in Pakistan is beginning to move for its demands. This is also the case in the public sector, where workers from various public sector departments are coming out against privatization and protesting for their rights. Without support from any political party, lacking an ideological basis and with the increasing brutality of the State these movements are passing through a difficult time. But these are the birth pangs of a new labour movement, which has huge reservoirs of potential support among the masses. This May Day one could feel a change in mood of the working class which is desperately looking for a way out of this rotten and decaying capitalist system.
In the country’s largest city a public meeting was organised in the industrial area of Landhi and Korangi. This area is one of the main industrial centers of the country, but for last two decades May Day meetings have not been organised here. Instead the trade union leaders, with the help of NGOs and political parties in power, were organizing May Day meetings in luxury hotels and press clubs where no workers were present. Instead the self-proclaimed leaders spoke along with ministers and officials of labour department. Karachi has a long history of working class movements and factory occupations going back to the 1960s and 70s, but the last two to three decades has seen an ebb in the movement. This May Day however, the organisation of a meeting in this industrial area highlights the beginning of a change.
The workers union at General Tyres had decided many months ago that a May Day meeting will be organised in the industrial area this year and that this tradition will be revived. They contacted other unions in the area and received an overwhelming response. Especially the unions at Adam Jee industries and Pixar showed special interest. Ten thousand pamphlets were printed after a joint meeting by various unions and distributed amongst the workers. The poster published by the Red Workers Front and Worker Nama was also pasted in a large numbers in major industrial areas across the city. Many workers appreciated the messages on the posters and in the pamphlets.
The right-wing PTI, tried to sabotage the activities by announcing a public meeting on the same date and in the same area with their leader, Imran Khan, addressing his party members. Of course these leaders never speak about the problems faced by workers and its solution -not even on May Day.
The clash with the PTI meeting caused many problems and even security threats. But despite this and soaring temperatures, workers from different industries started arriving at the meeting place from early in the morning. The workers were holding red flags and banners with their demands written on it, while raising slogans to unite the working class. In Korangi the rally started from the Adam Jee Engineering plant and was joined by gathering workers from Merit packages, Pixar and the Korangi Labour Colony. This rally along with others finally united at Gondal lawn near the Manzil Hospital crossing. The area was decorated with red flags and banners paying tribute to the martyrs of Chicago.
Comrade Safdar Jabbar opened the meeting and after welcoming the guests handed over the microphone to Paras Jan, leader of Red Workers Front (RWF) to conduct the meeting. The meeting was presided over by the president of Sindh Labour Federation Shafiq Ghouri while the famous labour leader Baba Ghyas ud Din was the chief guest.
Workers from Shabbir Tiles, Johnson & Johnson, Pixar, Adam Jee Enginnering, Merit Pacakges, IIL Pipes, General Tyres, Pakistan Machine Tool Factory, PIA, Pakistan Steel, Gandhara Nissan, Salfi Textile, Nova Leather company, Port Qasim and others participated in huge numbers.
The mood was enthusiastic and the revolutionary poetry and slogans by stage secretary added to this. The editor of Worker Nama, Rashid Khalid, had come all the way from Lahore, just to attend this meeting. Other speakers included Farman from Johnson & Johnson, Furqan Ahmed secretary general of CBA union at Pixar, Dilabr Khan, the president of Shabbir Tiles union, Adil, the secretary general of Adam Jee Engineering union, Sheikh Majeed of PIA, Abdul Salam of NLF, Saif ur Rehman Kundi of Awami Labour Federation, Mirza Maqsood of Pakistan Steel, Anam Patafi of RWF, Rana Gul Afridi labour secretary of ANP and Zahoor Awan secretay general of General Tyre workers union. Speakers not only condemned the capitalist system and attacked the policies of ruling class but also criticized the treacherous role of labour leaders.
Comrade Anam Patafi, spoke highlighting the lack of attendance of women workers at the meeting and said that we should make efforts to bring more women works to such meetings. She said that, women had historically played an important role in all revolutions and that it is therefore also important to bring them out in the struggles in Pakistan today. Comrade, Rashid Khalid condemned all efforts to divide workers on religious, nationalist, linguistic and sectarian lines. He said that movements are erupting across the world. In Brazil millions of workers have gone on a general strike, so has the Indian working class on several occasions recently. He explained that, the Pakistani working class needs to use similar revolutionary methods. He said that corrupt trade union leaders are being exposed and that a new leadership of the working class is emerging, which will move towards a socialist revolution. Veteran labour leader Raja Fateh also addressed the rally with revolutionary poetry. Zahoor Awan of General Tyres thanked all the participants and assured them of cooperation in future especially with the workers of Shabbir Tiles. He said that if management of Shabbir Tiles didn't corrected its attitude towards the workers then all there will be a sit-in at the gate factory gate. This shows a big development in workers solidarity in the area and clearly expresses the tune of times to come.
A worker from General Tyres, Israr Ahmed, presented some resolutions to the audience which were accepted unanimously. In the end chief guest, Bbab Ghyas, congratulated the workers on holding this meeting and said that workers are kept away from politics. But workers must participate in the politics to change society.
Worker Nama also had a stall in the meeting which had revolutionary literature for workers, including the quarterly Lal Salam and our perspectives documents. Workers expressed a keen interest in this literature, which shows the increasing interest of workers in Marxist ideas. All this suggests a gathering storm.
A public meeting was organised by the Pakistan Workers Confederation in which workers from the Pakistan Labour Federation, Balochistan Labour Federation, BDA Employees Union, Irrigation Employees Union, PWD employees union, C&W employees union, B&R employees union, Post Office union, Red Workers Front, NADRA employees union, Habib ullah coastal employees union and others participated in big numbers.
All these workers came to different rallies starting from their departments. Comrades of the Red Workers Front (RWF) participated in the rally of PWD workers with their banner. This rally came to White Road, went to the central post office (GPO) and then ended up in the main public meeting at Liqaqt Park.
The meeting started with one minute’s silence for the Chicago martyrs. Speakers addressing the meeting said that we today are not here just to remember those martyrs but to carry their struggle forward. They said that today the ruling class is even more brutal than in 1886 and the lives of workers are getting more difficult with every passing day. We vow to end this ruling class and build a society where the working class is emancipated.
Comrade Karim Parhar of the RWF spoke at the meeting while comrades sold Worker Nama and Lal Salaam to the participants. The pamphlet produced by the RWF also got a huge response by the workers.
In Balochistan, this year May Day was marked with the struggle of hospital workers who are facing the brutality of the government. They have been protesting for their demands since 17 April and started a long march from different cities of the province towards Quetta. When they reached Mastung, sixty kilometers from Quetta, they were brutally attacked by police and many workers were seriously injured. But they still continued their protest and reached Quetta, joining the mass meeting of workers on May Day. After the May Day meeting they started a sit-in on the lawn of the local municipal corporation. Here the police attacked them again and severely beat them, injuring many. They were then arrested and taken to different police stations of the city. The RWF condemned this attack and stood in complete solidarity with these hospital workers in their struggle.
The RWF also organised a protest of hospital workers in Lahore in solidarity with these workers and against the brutal attack by the Balochistan government. Leaders of the Hospital Workers of Punjab condemned this attack and asked to fulfill demands of these workers immediately. This protest was held in the Services Hospital Lahore by the Punjab Paramedics Association led by Punjab president, Yousaf Billa, and Aftab Ashraf of the RWF.
This is the second largest city in Balochistan and is the centre of the Balochi resistance against the Pakistani State. A brutal military operation has been carried out in this city along with other areas of the province, killing hundreds of activists and political workers. But this May Day the workers of this city organised with revolutionary determination.
Workers from various departments arrived at Azadi Chowk for the mass meeting. Trade Union leaders addressed the meeting and paid tribute to the Chicago martyrs. Speakers said that we should follow the path of those martyrs and bring all workers of various unions and federations together to fight for our rights. They also said that if our demands are not met we will take action against the government. Labour leader, Javed Ahmed, said that students, peasants and workers should join hands to get rid of our problems. He also condemned the brutal attack of police on hospital workers. He said that female hospital workers were also attacked which is a total disgrace and we should fight against this brutality. Javed Ahmed demanded free education and health for everyone.
At the end a resolution was presented for solving the problems of workers which was accepted unanimously. Comrades of the RWF distributed their pamphlet which was appreciated by the workers.
This is one of the largest cities of Pakistan. Many public meetings were organised by trade unions to commemorate May Day. Comrades of the RWF participated in these meetings but also organised a protest in front of the press club.
In this protest, comrade Saddam from Sindh University and Dr. Harish Kumar were present along with others. Along with some workers, students from Sindh University were also present. Protestors raised slogans paying tribute to the Chicago martyrs and for the demands of the workers. Leading comrades addressed the protest and explained the crisis of capitalism on global scale. They said that a socialist revolution is the only way out of this impasse.
This is another important city in Sindh. The RWF organised a public meeting on 29 April at which workers and students paid tribute to the Chicago martyrs. Those addressing the public meeting were central leader of telecommunication workers of the PTCL, Lala Muhib, and comrade Rashid Khalid, editor of Worker Nama. They said that today workers in Pakistan are facing difficult working conditions and they should unite to emancipate themselves from the yoke of capitalism. Workers from the railway workers’ union also participated in this meeting and later had a detailed discussion with comrades of the RWF. Workers from local food industries also participated in the meeting and discussed working jointly with the RWF towards a struggle for their rights.
The RWF organised a rally in which workers and youth participated with enthusiasm. The rally started from the vegetable market and after passing through the city ended at the press club. Participants at the rally raised slogans for a minimum wage equal to ten grams of gold, free education and healthcare and a reduction in working hours. They also paid tribute to the Chicago martyrs.
From the press club, the rally joined the mass meeting of workers being held in the WAPDA Labour Hall for May Day. Those who addressed this meeting included Muhammad Morial from the highways union, Wareel Meerani, Abdul Hameed Jamali, Altaf Pool (an electricity worker from the WAPDA), Bashir Solangi (a municipal worker), Raja Rafiq from the hospital workers and Zameer Korejo from the literary society along with others. Ashiq Dadi recited revolutionary poetry in the meeting.
A pamphlet produced by the RWF was also distributed in the meeting.
Red Workers Front and PYA organised a May Day meeting at the Gulistan Textile Mill on May Day. At the end of meeting a rally was held at the press club with many workers and students participating.
The speakers who addressed the meeting included Yasir Irshad, Adil Rao, Jalil Mangla, Rafiq Channar, Malik Sajid, Asif Jah and Akhran Asadi. They explained the events of 1886 in Chicago; how the workers of Pakistan continue to face similar conditions and the need to fight the brutal measures of the ruling class. The speakers explained how, although there are some meager labour laws in operation in this country, no one is willing to implement them. The labour department and all government officials are corrupt and take bribes, making them partners to the exploitation of the working class. Speakers also described the economic conditions in Pakistan and explained how with increased taxes the ruling class is shifting the entire burden of the crisis on to the shoulders of workers. It was also noted how the rulers use terrorism and other such methods to harass movements of the working class.
The issues faced by the workers of Gulistan Textile Mills in particular were underlined and it was explained how all government officials and MPs act like servants of the owners of this mill. These owners are refusing to pay months of back wages to workers amounting to around Rs. 200 million ($2 million) but, of course, no one is arresting them. Workers have nothing to eat or feed their children whilst these owners are living in luxury. Nevertheless, we will continue our struggle and will fight for our rights till the last drop of our blood.
Multan is one of the biggest cities of the country and the cultural capital of South Punjab. On 30th April RWF organised a meeting in Gulgasht colony. Workers and students participated in the meeting with enthusiasm. Workers from WAPDA, Railways, PTCL, Hospitals and the journalists’ association all attended the meeting. Students from various councils of BZ University and Emerson college were also present. Comrade Rawal Asad conducted lead events.
Fazeel Asghar opened the discussion while comrade Younas recited a revolutionary poem. Comrade Asad Patafi explained the importance of May Day and its historical background, and the crisis of capitalism today. Yasir Farri then recited a poem and was followed by PYA Multan president Giand Baloch, who addressed the meeting, emphasizing the unity of students and workers. Asad Habib of PTCL explained the problems that workers face following privatisation. Shoain Baloch of Baloch council in BZ University highlighted the problems faced by Baloch students.
President of hospital workers of Children Hospital Bashir Joya then spoke about the problems that they were facing. Anjum Saeed, vice-chairman for the Railway Shed Staff explained the problems faced by railway workers and underlined that our strength lies in our unity. A.D. Kanwal, general secretary of Pakistan Medical Labortary Association, explained the issues faced by laboratory workers. Rafi Ullah from BZ University and Naeem Mahar from Multan Union of Journalists then addressed the meeting, the latter explaining the problems faced by journalists. Yahya, a student from BZ university recited his revolutionary poetry.
The Meeting was summed up by Agha Hussain of WAPDA Hydro union who spoke about his experiences in the labour movement. He said that the unity of the workers is the death knell for this ruling class and the whole capitalist system. Meeting ended with the singing of Internationale.
A meeting was organised in Sher-e-Bengal Labour Colony where workers of more than 150 industries are living. Students from GC Univeristy, UET, Punjab University, University of Lahore, Allama Iqbal Medical College and others participated in the meeting. Workers from WAPDA and other departments also participated.
The meeting began with the performance of a stage play about a strike in a factory and how the industrialist refuses to pay wages of the workers despite spending vast amounts on luxuries. The play portrayed the manner in which the industrialist is connected with and sends precious gifts to top officials of the police, the district administration, the media and human rights NGOs. But non-payment of wages lead to protests and then a strike of the workers, and they raised revolutionary slogans. At the end the owner with the help of the management attempted to bribe the leaders but instead faced their wrath and fury. The play was written by Adam Pal and directed by Nadeem Abbas, while it was performed by young theatre activists of Azad Theatre. The workers enjoyed the performance and showed their appreciation not only with applause but also by joining in with the revolutionary slogans of the performers at the end.
After the performance, workers from various industries came on stage and explained the problems faced by in their own industries. Valeed Khan of RWF conducted the stage, with speakers including Maqsood Hamdani from WAPDA, Adeel Zaidi from IMT, Aftab Ashraf from IMT, Zain ul Abideen from PYA, Khalid Dogar from United Detergent Unilever, Chaudhary Rasheed from EMCO Tiles and others. Comrade Adam Pal summed up the meeting and was followed by the singing of revolutionary songs by Ustad Nasir Khan, including his new song in honour of Mashal Khan.
Speakers also paid tribute to Comrade Ijaz Shah who was the leader of IMT Pakistan and died few months ago due to liver disease. Comrade Ijaz Shah came from a peasant family but became a worker in EMCO Tiles in 1970s. He, along with Arif Shah, led heroic battles for the rights of workers against the industrialists. For these struggles he faced the most brutal repression by the state and its authorities. In 1996 Arif Shah was assassinated, representing a major setback for the labour movement in Lahore and the whole country. After the collapse of Soviet Union the labour movement was already declining and the brutal industrialists were on the attack. But Ijaz Shah continued his struggle throughout these difficult times. He actively participated in the meetings of the IMT and played a leading role, particularly in the last ten years. He was active in organizing congresses and meetings of the IMT across Pakistan. He also revived the lost tradition of May Day meetings in labour colonies and industrial areas. Many corrupted left activists had joined the NGOs and had reduced May Day meetings to luxury shows at five star hotels. But Ijaz Shah was determined to hold these meetings in labour colonies, as had been the case up until the 1980s and 90s. Unlike many labour leaders of the past he had remained loyal to his ideas, amid poverty and declining health. He could not be bought by the wealthy industrialists and rulers of the city and lived all his life struggling for the rights of workers. Last year when IMT Pakistan faced an attack from inside he stood with the genuine ideas of Marxism and participated in the Unity Conference with a revolutionary spirit. In his last days he was unable to afford treatment for the liver disease from which he was suffering and he drew his last breath on 15th March 2017. Workers of the labour colony paid their tributes to this genuine leader and vowed to continue his struggle.
RWF organised a meeting in Nawaba wala in which workers from various textile industries participated. Comrade Babu William conducted the stage. Akhtar Munir, a student from Agriculture University, opened the discussion and explained the history of the struggle of working class. Rauf Ansari spoke about the problems faced by textile and brick kiln workers now. He explained how no political party stands with the workers today. He said that workers should follow the example of the Bolshevik revolution in the fight for their rights. Next Saleem Rafi recited revolutionary poetry. Comrade Safdar explained the problems of textile workers in various areas of Faisalabad and described how these workers, who make expensive clothes, cannot afford proper clothing for themselves. Comrade Abdullah explained the crisis of capitalism and said that it is a global crisis and workers of the world need to unite against this system. He was then followed by the revolutionary songs of Piya Jee, which enthused all the participants.
Dr. Aftab Ashraf summed up the meeting explaining the struggle of the working class in this part of the world. He explained the strikes of workers in the 1920s and 30s and then about the 1968-69 revolutionary events in which the workers of Faisalabad played a leading role. He said that we should build strong forces on the ideas of Marxism today to carry the movements and struggles in the coming period towards a successful socialist revolution.
Bhakkar (Kaloor Kot)
A public meeting was organised by the RWF and PYA in which all the unions of Kaloor Kot participated. Workers and youth from the Progressive Youth Front, Punjab Teachers Union, Lawyers Association, WAPDA Hydro Union and Brick Kiln workers union participated. Brick Kiln workers union has a membership of more than five thousand in this area.
Participants gathered at Dhobi Chowk and went to the TMA Hall in a rally. Participants of the rally raised slogans of the socialist revolution and for international solidarity. Bilal Azer opened the meeting by explaining the importance of May Day and paid tribute to the martyrs of Chicago. After that Rana Farooq Advocate addressed the meeting explaining the history of struggle of the working class. Rana Jamil Sahir then recited his revolutionary poetry to enthuse the audience. Abdul Manan of WAPDA Hydro union congratulated the workers for this meeting and extended complete solidarity from his union. Rana Khushi Muhammad from WAPDA Hydro union also addressed the meeting. Rana Abdul Jabbar Qasmi of Punjab Teachers Union urges the workers to unite for their rights.
When the leader of the brick kiln workers Shah Jahan came on stage he got a standing ovation. Shah Jahan explained the problems faced by the brick kiln workers and said that these workers are being denied the basic rights of social security and old age benefits. We have been on strike for more than one month but no one listens to us. After that Rana Rashid congratulated the workers gathered at the meeting. Rana Abu Huraira Advocate of the Youth Front extended solidarity with the workers. Rao Riaz Advocate also explained the crisis of capitalism and said that only a socialist revolution is the way out.
In the end Bilaz Azer of the RWF presented the suggestion of joint platform for all workers which was accepted unanimously.
A meeting was organised by the All Pakistan Workers Confederation at the press club. Trade Union leaders and workers participated in this meeting and paid tribute to the martyrs of Chicago. Speakers said that workers should keep an eye on their leaders and if their leadership is betraying them than they should mobilize and elect a new genuine leadership. They also said that workers today again have to work for more than twelve hours and they need to struggle again like the workers of Chicago but on a higher plane.
Comrades of the RWF distributed pamphlets among the participants and raised revolutionary slogans.
A meeting was organised on May Day in which workers from the Marble cutting industries of the area, teachers from private schools, kiosk sellers and others participated. Those who addressed the meeting were Waqar Alam, Asif Wardag, Shahb, Siddiq, Suleman and Talimand. Muhammad Karim conducted the stage.
Speakers highlighted the problems faced by workers in private industries. It is normal for them to work for more than twelve hours a day and still they are not paid their wages for several months. Organizing unions has become a crime in this country which is severely punished by the industrialists and state authorities. It is the lack of time that inspires these workers to come together and fight for their rights on a class basis.
RWF and PYA organised a rally on May Day. The rally started from the District courts and ended by chanting slogans outside the gates of Pilot High School, where a meeting of the APCA was being held. Participants of the rally raised slogans against the capitalist system and paid tribute to the martyrs of Chicago.
A meeting was organised by the PYA in which students from various educational institutes participated. Comrade Gulbaz explained the importance of May Day and the crisis faced by humanity. He emphasized the importance of Marxist ideas in this epoch and how through building a revolutionary organization on these ideas the problems faced by humanity can be solved.
Others who contributed in the discussion were Comrade Hafeez, Junaid, Shoaib, Raja Tanvir and Raja Iqbal.
The comrades of the RWF also participated and held May Day meetings in Gujranwala, D.G. Khan, Palandri, Hub chowki and other areas.