Karachi: Corruption, opportunism and betrayal of political parties marred the trade union movement in Pakistan, the division of workers on ethnic and religious lines has dealt a fatal blow to unity of labours, and growing market economy has slimmed the chances of revival of trade unionism in the country.
Veteran trade unionist and chairman of Railways Workers Union Manzoor Ahmed Razi said there was a strong labour movement here before the partition of the united India. He said even after the partition labour movement was vigorous in the new dominion of Pakistan. He said the most powerful labour union belonged to the railway workers and it was called the mother of all trade unions. He said besides the railways the labour unions of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) were robust trade unions. He said later when industrial units were established in Shershah and Landhi areas new labour unions were formed there, strengthening the labour movement of Pakistan.
He said the Pakistan Trade Unions Federation led by Mirza Ibrahim was the first labor federation of Pakistan. The other dominant labour union leaders were Muhammad Yameen at the Securities Printing Press, Nabi Ahmed at Shershah industrial cluster, S P Lodhi at Landhi, SITE industrial sectors, Kaneez Fatima at the KPT and KMC and Nayab Naqvi in cigarette making industry. He said this strong labor movement also played a decisive role in agitation against dictator General Ayub Khan.
He said the nationalization of industries by Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave more power to trade unionism in Pakistan in the early years of his government. He said the labours became so powerful that they even created problems for Bhutto, and a group of labours led by Usman Baloch even occupied the Dawood Cotton Mills. He said this led Bhutto to take a sudden u-turn and he became a staunch enemy of labour union politics in Pakistan. He ordered police action on agitating labours and their leadership was arrested and browbeaten. He said this was a crucial phase of labor movement in Pakistan and after the year 1974 it went on downfall.
He recalled that the first rift in the labor movement in Pakistan occurred when under the patronage of Bhutto the Left Movement of Pakistan went divided into pro-USSR and Pro-Mao groups. He said soon the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami jumped into arena and formed its own labor union with right-leaning tendency. He said later all political parties made their own labor wings, weakening the unity of labors. He said then came the era of linguist and ethnic politics in Karachi and labors were also divided on the lines of their linguist and ethnic background which he said was really a fatal blow.
Razi said he thinks governments, political parties and religious organizations played a dark role to hijack the trade union movement in Pakistan and now the future of this movement seemed bleak in this country. He said the labor unions that still work in Pakistan lack not only resources but also honest leadership. He said majority of labor leaders are opportunist and they actually run pocket-unions of industrialists. He warned if the Pakistani workers failed to get united a fight a class-based war his isolation and miseries will increase with every passing day.
Noted human rights lawyer and president of Lawyers of Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) Zia Ahmed Awan said the labor rights are also part of human rights and no society progresses and prospers till giving due rights to workers. He said the downfall of labor movement in Pakistan started with the martial law of General Ziaul Haq, when labor politics and student politics were restricted and ruthlessly crushed. He said it was the agenda of Gen Zia to keep students and labourers away from the mainstream politics. He said this strategy not only weakened the labour movement in Pakistan but also resulted in extremism and Talibansiation Pakistan facing today. He said student politics and labour politics are nurseries of mainstream politics as they produce and groom future politicians. He said the process of privatisation in Pakistan has harmed the trade union culture. He said successive governments passed harsh anti-labour laws and marginalized the role of trade unions. He said forming of trade unions in export processing zones is banned in Pakistan, while in Bangladesh trade unions in their in export processing zones are allowed. Awan said now industrialists and tycoons are also sitting in assemblies and it is not possible to make laws for the due rights of labourers. He said political dynasties have formed strong roots in Pakistan and now only sons and daughters of these political families can win elections and not sons and daughters of poor labourers and political activists. He said people had pins high hopes to the government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), but during its last tenure of five years this party did nothing for the rights of labourers. He said even the labour courts are not playing due role to boost a culture where rights of workers are safeguarded. He said without a positive lawmaking and their strict implementation the rights of workers and boost of trade unions is a distant dream.
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