The state should consider cutting its expenditure on the Armed Forces rather than privatise public-sector businesses, several speakers at a Mazdoor-Kissan rally said on Saturday.
They demanded an end to privatisation of public-utility organisations and said the management of the Water and Power Development Authority, Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Steel should be revamped and workers given a stake in these to improve their working.
Workers Party Pakistan’s Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhter said the unequal distribution of agricultural land and industry in Pakistan had been central to the state’s obsession with national security. He said the military was the biggest land-owner in the country and added that a transformation from policies focused on national-security to those centred on welfare of the people would require the military to surrender its business interests in banking, cement, real estate and transport sectors. Dr Akhter said land reforms should be implemented and privatisation of public sector bodies stopped. A pamphlet containing a list of demands distributed at the rally said agricultural land holdings should be capped at 25 acres per family, for canal irrigated, and 50 acres per family, for rain-fed land.
The crowd of more than 1,500 people included WPP members from several districts of the province and representatives of Pakistan Workers Confederation (an alliance of six trade union federations), Railways Workers Union (open line and workshops), Pakistan Telecommunications Limited workers union, Labour Qaumi Movement, Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, Katchi Abadis Alliance and National Students Federation.
The rally marched from the City railway stations to Lahore Press Club, through McLeod Road and Abbot Road. WPP president Abid Hasan Minto and vice president Yousaf Masti Khan addressed the participants in front of the press club. Minto said the WPP had recently lodged petitions at the Supreme Court seeking a bar on election expenditure and implementation of land reforms. He said the bar on spending would encourage people of modest means to contest elections.
Yousaf Masti Khan demanded an end to the military operation in Balochistan and said that the insurgents should be encouraged to bring their demands to the table in a dialogue led by civilian leadership. He said most of the missing persons in Balochistan belonged to poor households, adding that wealthy sardars and their families were mostly unaffected by the unrest.
Talking to The Express Tribune, PWC general secretary Khushi Muhammad criticised the provincial government for not allowing trade unions in factories with less than 50 workers. He said the right to form unions should also be extended to agricultural workers. He said the AMP had yet to be recognised as a workers’ union even though it was leading a movement on behalf of tenant farmers for over a decade.
AMP Sargodha president Hamid Gill said his association had joined the rally because it shared WPP’s slogan of social and economic justice.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.