The Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign has organised a campaign of public meetings to commemorate the hundreds of workers who were recently killed in fire factories in Karachi and Lahore, exposing the criminal behaviour of the owners who had locked all exits bar one [at the Karachi factory] and even then insisted that finished goods should have priority over workers trying to escape to save their lives! The capitalists of Pakistan stand condemned before the whole of the working people.
As part of this campaign the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign has been organizing condolence references [commemorations] and protests in various cities of Pakistan to condemn the barbaric deaths of hundreds of workers in the two factories in Karachi and Lahore, all due to the decaying capitalist system in Pakistan.
In Lahore a condolence reference was organized for the more than 300 workers who lost their lives in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore. The meeting was held in the Lahore Press Club. The reference was attended by the International Secretary of the PTUDC, Dr. Lal Khan, Central General Secretary Railways Labour Union, Sarfaraz, Central President from Pakistan Telecommunications Company Union, Sabir Butt, Secretary General EMCO industries Labour Union, Yusaf Awan, Amanullah from Rustam Towel industry, Press Secretary of Young Doctors Association Punjab, Dr. Aftab, Rashid Khalid from the Progressive Students Alliance and Javed Khokhar from the Sher e Bengal Labour Colony. Adam Pal was the stage secretary.
Dr. Tahir Shabbir recited a revolutionary poem at the start of the programme. After that one minute’s silence was observed for the victims of this tragedy.
The speakers said that there are no laws in Pakistan for the protection of workers and that workers in the factories are brutally oppressed and their living conditions are worse than that of animals. The factory owners openly violate the few regulations that exist on paper. The minimum wage set by the government is already very low, but factory owners pay much less than even that paltry amount. The official minimum wage of eight thousand rupees is paid nowhere and in most factories the workers are forced to work for wages less than three to four thousands rupees a month.
If there are two hundred registered workers in a factory then in reality there are two thousand people working there and thanks to the system of contract labour, no record is kept about the workers. 99% of workers don’t have any kind of social security or old age pension, because the prior condition for this is to have a permanent job in a factory and permanent jobs are very rare these days as most of the workers are hired on contracts or on daily wages which are covered by no law or regulation.
Unions don’t exist in most of the industrial sector which is encouraged by the rulers. There is no justice for the workers in the labour courts. The workers cannot afford to go to the labour courts and if they manage to do so the cases are dragged out over several years and usually the decisions are always in favour of the capitalists and factory owners.
Life for the worker has been made hell by this system. But no one is addressing this reality even after such a harrowing tragedy and every party and leader is unloading the blame for all this on their opponents. All those who pretend to sympathize with the workers in the media are also responsible for this atrocity. The PTUDC demands the immediate removal of anti-worker laws and policies such as privatization and the enforcement of labour laws. Those responsible for the murder of more than 300 workers should be publicly hanged.
Comrade Amanullah said that no factory owner follows standard procedures for safety measures. In Karachi where the fire killed three hundred workers in a garment factory there were no fire exits or alarms. Workers were working like slaves in a basement with all the doors and windows locked. At the time of the incident there was only one exit open and the owners ordered that the finished products should be taken out first before the workers!
There were also women and children working at that time for whom the factory became a gas chamber and many of them died. Some eyewitnesses said that some pregnant women also died in the incident. To add insult to this injury it has come to our knowledge that the factory was insured while there was no insurance for any worker, they were even not registered in any section of the factory. No one even knew the names and addresses of those workers as they were working through a contractor.
Javed khokhar said that condition of implementation of labour laws is same everywhere in whole country and this ruling class is indifferent to plight of workers.
Sabir Butt said that workers are on the receiving end in this country. He condemned the rulers for their attacks on the working class. He said that in 2005 there were 72,000 workers at PTCL while today there are around 20,000. Management is still trying to sack thousands more.
Dr. Aftab from the YDA said that many young doctors also face hazardous working conditions in government hospitals. Many get hepatitis, TB and other diseases while working. A similar situation is faced by nurses and other hospital staff. He said the YDA is struggling to get better health facilities for the people of Pakistan but these rulers have used every tactic to stop them. False cases of killing patients have been brought against those doctors struggling for their rights while many were tortured and put behind bars. He said that the only way out for the working class today is through socialism.
Srfraz, a labour leader from the Railways, condemned the ruling class of Pakistan which has been exploiting workers for the last 65 years. He said that the very creation of this country was a crime and we are still suffering the consequences today. He said that workers on the railways are fighting against this capitalist system and they will stand with the revolutionary forces in a mass upsurge. He said that all the terrorist bomb blasts take place in the localities of poor people while elite housing societies never experience such horrors. He asked why it is that the wealthy always come out unscathed.
In the end Dr. Lal Khan spoke on this topic and said that all laws and constitutions are meaningless for workers in this system of exploitation. He said that profit under capitalism comes from the exploitation of the working class. This system is based on inequality and unless we overthrow it through a socialist revolution we cannot get a better life for the working class.
A meeting was held on 14 September in the SITE industrial area in Karachi in the aftermath of the tragedy in which more than 300 workers died in a factory fire. The meeting was chaired by the president of the SITE Labour Forum, Khasta Rehman. He is also the president of the labour union in Coca Cola Karachi. He proposed the agenda to launch a struggle for the legal rights of the workers killed in this tragedy. In this meeting a committee was formed which will take care of the legal proceedings of the case of the killed workers. Bakht Zaman who works in a pharmaceutical firm was put in charge of this committee.
A unanimous decision was taken to hoist banners in front of all the factories in the SITE industrial area in protest over these killings. A leaflet will also be distributed to all workers. A committee was formed for this purpose. A fund was set up immediately for which 10,000 rupees were collected on the spot. Comrade Janat Husain of the PTUDC also addressed this meeting and said that workers will themselves have to fight for their rights. He said that according to government sources there were 268 workers in this factory but at the time of the incident it came to light that 3000 people worked there. He said that the PTUDC will always fight for the workers’ cause and will take the message of this meeting to all the workers of Pakistan and other countries.
Others who attended this meeting included Ameer Ali, Raja Tauqeer Ahmed, Dildar Hussain from the Kohe Noor soap factory, Abdur Razaq Kachoo from Dadex pipes, Safeer Mughal, the Secretary general of the Coca Cola union and labour leader Gul Rehman.
A meeting in the Landhi industrial area of Karachi was also held on this issue by the PTUDC, while public meetings in other industrial areas are planned in the coming days.
A protest rally was held in Quetta by the PTUDC and the Balochistan Workers’ Federation to condemn this tragedy. Workers from Merck, Water and Sewerage Authority, Post Office, Teachers, Hospital workers and others attended this protest. The rally started from the Merck factory and passing through various roads ended at the Press Club. Nazar Mengal from the PTUDC, Hasan Baloch from the Balochistan Workers’ Federation, Manzoor Baloch from Merck, Abdul Hakeem from WASA and Shakir Hussain from the Post Office union addressed the rally and condemned the capitalists and ruling class of Pakistan.
A protest rally was held in Hyderabad. The rally started from Hyder crossing and ended at the Press Club. Labour leaders Paras Jan, Peer Muhammad Sindhi, Jay Parkash, Esar Das, Nisar Chandio, Aziz Ahmed Khoso from the Railways, Khalid Chang from APCA, Ramesh from the Hydro union WAPDA, Dr. Vinod, Ejaz Bhagio, Hanif Musrani and others attended the rally.
Labour Leaders addressed the rally and demanded that all those responsible for this tragedy should be hanged.
A meeting was held in Gujranwala to express condolences for the death of 300 workers. The central leader of the Habib Bank union Munawar Asim Bhatti, Central Vice President of the APNEC Dr. Umar Naseer, Secretary General YDA Gujranwala Dr. Umar Rathore, Vice President People’s Labour Bureau Punjab Javed Iqbal Anjum, Aslam from WASA, Mohsin Butt, Sibghat Ullah and other people attended the meeting and spoke at the occasion. Comrade Ali Baig chaired the meeting. Imran Hashmi recited a poem for workers at the start of the meeting while a one minute silence was also observed.
Comrade Adam Pal from the PTUDC addressed the meeting and said that this act of barbarism is not the last. If this system is not overthrown then many such events will occur in the coming period because the whole infrastructure is collapsing due to the decay of the capitalist system.
A resolution was unanimously passed that all factories in Gujranwala should be immediately inspected for safety measures and minimum wage implementation. Also trade unions in every factory should be consulted by the Labour department for enquiries regarding safety measures.
Protests were also held in Dadu, Johi and many other cities of Pakistan while public meetings are planned in Faislabad, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Multan and many other places in the coming days.