Heightened security on The Mall for a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf rally caused several unions to change their plans for the Labour Day. Traditionally, rallies by unions culminate at Charing Cross but on Sunday, the area had been cordoned off with barbed wires and pickets.
The International Youth and Workers Movement (IYWM) held a joint event with the Pakistan Workers Confederation (PWC) near Aiwan-i-Iqbal. The rally was joined by the Railway Workers Union, All Pakistan Hydro Electric Union, Irrigation Employees Federation and Textile Workers Federation.
Osama Tariq, a spokesman for the PWC, said originally, the rally had been planned from Labour Hall on Nisbet Road to The Mall. “We were unable to take this route because of the pickets and road blocks and decided to stay in one place.”
“We understand that the Panama Papers and corruption is an important issue. We believe in accountability of the corrupt as well but it should not come at the cost of the workers,” he said.
Talking to The Tribune, Tariq Shahzad of the (IYWM) said, “Labour Day is internationally celebrated by workers. Every year, they get together to talk about the problems they face. This year, Labour Day was hijacked by the PTI.”
“PTI’s posters do not mention workers even though their rally is being held on a day associated with workers’ solidarity,” he said. “It is evident that the PTI is a party of the ruling class and does not care for the working class.”
Several workers at the rally complained that it had been difficult for them to reach the public meeting.
Mohammad Asim of the Pakistan Workers Confederation said, “I was going to the rally on a motorbike. I got held up because I could not find an alternative route to Aiwan-i-Iqbal.
“They had put up containers and barbed wires on several roads leading to The Mall. I had to go back and forth a few times before I found a way to get here,” he said.
Addressing the rally, PWC general secretary Khurshid Ahmed condemned the government for its privatisation plans.
He also urged the government to introduce a new labour policy in conformity with ILO Conventions. He said the government should convene a national tripartite labour conference which had not been held for more than five years. He said that the minimum wage should be raised to Rs25,000.
Scores of workers gathered at Rang Mahal Chowk for a Labour Day programme organised by the Awami Workers Party. The party had planned a street theatre and a rally.
Talking to The Tribune, Taj Khan, a party activist who is an employee at a shop in Azam Cloth Market, condemned the police for frequently harassing workers of the market. “Policemen often come and detain young boys working at tea stalls. They are detained on suspicion only and released on payment of bribes,” he said. AWP leader Mohammad Ayaz said the government should learn to differentiate between workers and terrorists. “Harassment of workers must end.”
The AWP rally was originally supposed to end at Charing Cross but since The Mall had been cordoned off by containers, it stopped at the General Post Office.
The rally organised by the Pakistan Workers Federation at Race Course Park could not move beyond Shadman Chowk.
Talking to The Tribune, Chaudhry Nasim Iqbal of the PWF said, “Workers converge in front of the Provincial Assembly on Labour Day as it is the house of legislation. The gathering is symbolic as workers remind the government about its responsibilities,” he said.
“The PTI could have used the opportunity to show solidarity with the workers but they did not,” he said.
He said Labour Day was marked by workers every year in memory of the workers of Chicago who had lost their lives while striking for an eight-hour work day.
“Today, many workers in Pakistan work more than 12 hours a day,” he said. “It paints a sorry picture about the state of workers welfare in the country.”
The Bonded Labour Liberation Front held their rally a day earlier.
Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the BLLF general secretary, said, “It is unfair that workers are ignored on their day”.
She said 17 international conventions were being violated in the brick kiln industry. “These issues are apparently not important for the government or the opposition,” she said.
Talking to The Tribune, DCO Muhammad Usman said, “We are aware that many workers’ groups were inconvenienced by the security measures on The Mall. Pickets and barriers had been set up to ensure security for the PTI rally. We had tried to discourage the PTI leadership from holding the rally on The Mall on Labour Day but they were adamant.”
Solidarity: Labour Day rallies across the province
Activists associated with labour wings of various political parties and WAPDA and Railways trade unions as well as members of the Pasban Rickshaw Union, the Coca-Cola Workers Union, the leather garments and textile workers union, akhbar farosh union, brick-kiln workers union participated in the rallies in Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.
They said welfare of the labour force was crucial to national development.
Speakers at a rally arranged by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz labour wing said the federal and provincial governments had taken practical steps for improving workers’ living conditions.
Addressing a rally in Dera Ghazi Khan, Peoples’ Labor Bureau head Mujahid Hussain Bukhari said PPP’s founding leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged because of his support for the cause of the working class.
In Faisalabad, rallies were organised by the National Labor Federation, the FESCO Employees Power Union, the Railway Prem Union, the Irrigation Pasban Union, the FDA Employees Union, All Pakistan Clerks Association (APCA), the Pasban Transport Union, the Peoples Labor Bureau and the Awami Workers Party.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2016.