As the world observed a day honouring the working class, thousands of the men and women who built this city and keep it clean came out to highlight their plight and vowed to continue struggling for real change and the creation of an egalitarian society.
Hundreds of labourers, including women, marched for better treatment and a minimum wage of Rs25,000.
The event at 100 Quarters
Worker’s Party Pakistan (WPP) organised a vibrant cultural May Day programme at 100 Quarters katchi abadi in F-6/2. Hundreds of katchi abadi residents from across the city as well as students, trade unionists and political activists participated.
The programme featured singers from 100 Quarters as well as kathak dancers, Potohari folk musicians and a stage play on the plight of CDA municipal workers. The event was held in the open ground next to the F-6/2 church and carried on for a number of hours, subtly reflecting the need for entertainment affordable for the city’s poor.
WPP Information Secretary Aasim Sajjad said that May Day has been completely stripped of all meaning with the rise of pocket unionism and the informal sector. He said only 3% of Pakistan’s total workforce is unionised.
Sajjad said that the labour movement in Pakistan was extremely powerful until the 1980s when the Zia dictatorship destroyed it through a mixture of coercion and cooption. He said that the labour movement has never recovered and is now completely dominated by pro-establishment unionists who have no commitment to reaching to the informal sector or challenge the stranglehold of multinationals and local industrialists.
Zahoor Khan, WPP’s likely candidate for NA-49, said that the labour movement’s disempowerment has completely alienated the working class from the electoral process.
Khan said, “Today, the slogans of justice, anti-imperialism and equality have been captured by reactionary forces while the corporate media has further reduced the space available for progressive forces to reorganise themselves within the working class and students.” Khan nevertheless pointed out that the contradictions of Pakistan’s political, economic and cultural structures are growing more acute by the day and it is imperative to take advantage of these contradictions to project an alternative progressive political agenda.
Local speakers Amanat Masih and Nazir Masih highlighted the injustices meted out to the Christian workers who keep the city clean but are still deprived of permanent shelter and are forced to live on top of nullahs overflowing with rubbish.
500 walk for rights
About 500 labourers came out protesting for their right in Islamabad. Most of these labourers live on the outskirts of the city or in slums.
The rally was organised by Saanch, Raabta Committee, Watan Development, Awami Party Pakistan and Women Counsellors’ Network. They marched from F-10 to the National Press Club in F-6. They were shouting slogans about the low wages they earn and were demanding that the government offer some form of settlement for those who are unemployed.
Farzana Bari, an activist, said to facilitate these workers “this informal sector should be given the shape of a formal sector by the government”.
Bari said that in Pakistan, the workers that are producing the wealth are suffering the most. Their children are not even going to school and there is no access to health. “Even the minimum wage is not sufficient,” she said. Bari added that 70% of labour in the informal sector consists of women.
‘Workers in informal sectors exploited’
At a rights rally organised by Labour Party Pakistan, Talat Rubab shared that workers in the informal sector are exploited and forced to work in appalling situations. The vast majority of workers across all industries do not have appointment letters, nor are they registered with social security schemes, Rubab added.
‘30% seats for labourers demanded’
Also, union leaders urged the government to reserved 30% of seats in both houses for labourers. They said this at the Convention Centre after the PM’s speech.
(Additional input from Vaqas Asghar)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.