On 4 December, hundreds of workers both from the public and private sector; as well as trade union representatives, students and peasant leaders, gathered in Lahore from all over Pakistan to attend the central workers’ convention hosted by the Red Workers’ Front. The convention was held in the Bakhtiar Labour Hall, which belongs to the Hydro Union for WAPDA (the state electricity department), the largest public sector union in Pakistan. This was the conclusion of a long series of conventions held in dozens of cities across the country in November.
The main demands of the central workers’ convention were for an immediate increase in the minimum wage in accordance with rising inflation; an end to privatisation and contractual labour; permanent jobs for all; elimination of unemployment; limitation of working hours; implementation of industrial safety laws; and full freedom for trade union activities.
Union representatives of almost all the major public sector and many private sector unions were present at the convention. Those who spoke at the event included:
- Hafiz Lutfullah, Central President of the PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunications Limited) Workers’ Ittehad Federation
- Mahmud Nangiana, Central President of the All-Pakistan Railway Trade Union Grand Alliance
- Mukhtar Gujjar, President of the Lahore of All-Pakistan Clerks’ Association
- Faiza Rana, Vice President of the Punjab Professors’ and Lecturers’ Association
- Javed Shah and Noor Iqbal Bhatti, from the Grid Station Circle WAPDA Hydro Union, Lahore Electric Supply Corporation
- Yasir Sharif from Ali Murtaza textiles, located in the Gajju Matta industrial area, Lahore
- Amir Hussain from the Railway Diesel Engine Shed, Lahore
- Gulzada Safi from the Punjab Teachers’ Union
- Aziz Khan, President of the General Tyres Workers’ Union in Karachi
- Malik Munir, Central President of the Pakistan Allied Health Professionals’ Association
- Dr. Ejaz Ayub, President of the Young Doctors’ Association, Gilgit-Baltistan
- Sarfraz Khan, Central Leader of the Railway Labour Union
- Rana Faiz, President of the Punjab Kissan (peasant) Committee
- Inayat Gujjar, Central President of the Railway Labour Union
- Anam Khan from the RWF Karachi
- Fazeel Asghar, Central Organiser of the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA)
These were joined by many more, including comrades of the RWF. Most of the trade union representatives and workers attending the convention agreed with the strategy proposed by the RWF, that in order to defend against the rising attacks on the working class by the ruling elite, it is necessary to prepare for a countrywide general strike. Moreover, there was severe criticism of the anti-people IMF loan programme.
The atmosphere throughout the convention was electric, and the morale of the participants was very high, which was reflected in the repeated bursts of radical slogans raised by the workers and youth. A number of resolutions were also passed by the convention that ranged from immediate economic demands to democratic and political demands.
These included support for Afghan immigrants coming to Pakistan, and an end of imperialist meddling in Afghanistan by Pakistan and other countries. A resolution was passed in support of the movement in Gwadar, in which thousands of local men and women have come out against exploitation by the ruling class. The resolution specifically mentioned that the state should stop its brutal attacks and oppressive measures against the movement, which has converged in a sit-in for the last three weeks.
A resolution was also passed demanding equal wages for women workers, as well as an end to harassment and sexual exploitation of women in private and public sector workplaces.
RWF secretary Paras Jan also read out solidarity messages for this convention from workers’ organisations from around the world. A special message from Rashpal Singh, General Secretary of Kirti Kissan Union of Indian Punjab was read out. This union was part of a year-long farmers’ struggle that defeated the Modi regime in India.
Solidarity messages from leaders of UNISON and UCU Cambridge in Britain were also read out, as was a message from Mario Iavazzi from the CGIL in Italy, to thunderous applause from the audience.
The new leading central body of the RWF was also announced at the convention, which was given a very warm reception by the participants. Dr. Aftab Ashraf was elected as the central president, Karim Parhar from Balochistan as Secretary General, Safdar Jabbar from Karachi as Senior Vice President, Yasir Irshad from Kashmir as Vice President, Asif Lashari from D.G. Khan as Information Secretary, Siddique Jan from Pashtoonkhwa as Joint Secretary and Adeel Zaidi as Finance Secretary.
Speaking at the event, members of the newly announced central body emphasised the role of socialist ideas in winning the final victory of the working class, and pointed out that complete emancipation of the working masses can only be achieved through socialist revolution.
After the convention, a protest rally was held, with the main demand of wage increases linked with inflation. The morale of the participants was exceedingly high throughout the rally and their slogans were very much appreciated by passersby, many of whom joined in!
Preparations for the central convention
The global economic crisis aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic has been marked by the most severe attacks on the living standards of Pakistani working masses. The country is also going through the cruellest IMF loan programme in its entire history. The severity of the situation can be gauged by the fact that, in the past four years, the Pakistani rupee has lost 75 percent of its value, undergoing a 15 percent depreciation in just the last three months.
There is a rising wave of wage cuts, forced retrenchments, privatisation, indirect taxation, huge fuel and electricity price hike measures and austerity. All this has made the lives of the working class a living hell. But the workers have also put up a courageous resistance against this onslaught. The previous year was marked by huge protests by united fronts of various workers unions’ and associations for wage increases and other demands.
The RWF central convention was planned with the explicit intention of giving this protest wave a proper programme and fighting strategy, and introducing into it the ideas of revolutionary socialism. Prior to the central convention, city level conventions were held in Hyderabad, Karachi, Quetta, Zhob, Loralai, Multan, Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan, Kamoki, Islamabad, Peshawar, Timergara, Lower Dir and Rawlakot.
All of these conventions were preceded by an enthusiastic campaign by comrades of the RWF, and were attended by many workers and union representatives. Especially noticeable was the convention in Karachi, which was attended by a large number of industrial workers from the Landhi, Korangi and Port Qasim industrial areas.
Tens of thousands of invitation leaflets were distributed across the country to propagate the message of the RWF among the workers, inviting them to the central convention. Thousands of posters were pasted in industrial areas and public sector enterprises in every major city across the length and breadth of the country. Special labour reports were printed in the monthly Worker Nama (the RWF paper), and special programmes were broadcast on our YouTube/Facebook channel, Mazdoor TV.
This campaign has provided us with an excellent opportunity to spread our revolutionary message to the most advanced layers of the working class. All the comrades of RWF are confident that this central workers’ convention will provide us with firm groundwork to build the forces of Marxism in Pakistan, so that we can prepare to overthrow the tyranny of capital once and for all.