Factory workers slam pro-capitalist policies, seek job security

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CARRYING placards inscribed with their demands, a group of workers hold a protest demonstration in the SITE area on Tuesday.—White Star
CARRYING placards inscribed with their demands, a group of workers hold a protest demonstration in the SITE area on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: Participants in two public protest meetings organised nationwide under the banner of Workers Solidarity Committee have urged the federal and the provincial governments to stop their pro-capitalist agendas.

Organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP) along with the Mazdoor Kisan Party, the Pakistan Trade Union Federation, the National Trade Union Federation, the Women Democratic Front, the Progressive Students Federation and several other labour unions on Tuesday here in Karachi, the protests were held at Ghani Chowk in Shershah and Habib Chowrangi in SITE area.

Both the protests were well-attended by factory workers, whereas several professional associations, including of journalists, doctors and nurses also endorsed the protests.

The protesters held placards against the unprecedented surge in layoffs and salary cuts of workers and labourers during the current pandemic.

They also chanted slogans against the ‘inhumane’ measures of the federal and provincial governments, as well as factory owners while expressing their deep concerns regarding the management and owners of a particular clothing company. They demanded that its owners and management be arrested for their “violent actions against their workers”, which included opening fire on them when they asked for their wages.

Clothing company condemned for ‘opening fire’ on protesting workers

Denouncing the company’s decision to open fire on its workers, AWP-Karachi’s general secretary Khurram Ali, said that the action could not be taken as a one-off incident. “In fact, it is a reflection of the unhindered power that this state has awarded to these capitalist owners. They can run a factory one day, and shut it down the other, as they please,” he said.

“By making labourers work for 12 to 16 hours under the contractual system, these factory owners make a mockery of labour laws. But from the labour department to the federal and provincial governments, and even the National Industrial Relations Commission are not just quiet on these violations but also appear to be safeguarding the interests of these capitalists,” he claimed.

“This is a country where cartels can easily pull off strikes, but not the workers. They are instead beaten up, and even shot at. We strongly condemn today’s incident, and call on the state and the government to immediately arrest the management and owners of the company. Otherwise the workers will be justified in responding to violence with violence,” he warned.

Workers laid off during pandemic

Representing the Mazdoor Kisan Party, Qamar Abbas stated that factory workers were continuously being laid off during the pandemic.

He said that so far 300 workers had been laid off from Ghani Cloth, around 700 from Lucky Textiles, at least 500 from Artistic Milliners in Korangi, 200 from Rajabi Textiles, 700 from Gul Ahmed, around 800 to 1,000 from Al Karam, whereas Siddiqsons has announced the closure of their entire factory. “Today when the state should have been standing with its working class, it is supporting capitalist owners,” he said.

Call for a planned economy

Addressing the protesters, veteran trade unionist and leader of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation Kaneez Fatima said that the crisis had identified the need to shift from policies of privatisation and neoliberalism to a planned economy. “Because the current system does not have a solution to the challenges posed by this pandemic. If we continue to stand by the free market economy, our life will soon be even more paralysed. It is because of this free market hegemony that all the necessary healthcare facilities, which should’ve been provided for free, are being sold at exorbitant prices. A mask that costs Rs5, is now being sold for Rs50,” she said and vowed to stand by the workers in these difficult times and continue fighting against all policies that violate labour rights.

Moreover, the protestors also criticised the factory owners’ plea currently being heard by the Sindh High Court, seeking a reversal of the Sindh government’s ban on sacking of employees. Speaking about the application, AWP-Karachi president Shafi Shaikh said that they call on the honourable high court to dispose of this anti-workers’ case immediately. “During this pandemic when workers are going through the most difficult time, allowing factory owners to lay employees off will be akin to pushing them and their families towards hunger and death,” he said.

President of the Women Democratic Front, Laila Raza, said that women of low-income households were already facing tough times as they are the first ones to be laid off from any factory during downsizing. “Considering that our society holds only women responsible for running a household and raising children, one can only assume what they must be going through during this health crisis,” she said.

The protest concluded with the Workers Solidarity Committee’s labour representatives from District West reading out demands of the labourers.

They assured the workers that the committee would continue to raise its voice against layoffs, salary cuts and other demands of workers.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2020