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‘New bargains on the horizon’

March 10, 2013

THIS is apropos of Niaz Murtaza’s article ‘New bargains on the horizon’ (Feb 24). In the spaghetti western film, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, there is a captivating scene that explains in the best possible way the concept of elite political bargain.

Blondie and Tuco have finally reached the graveyard where the gold they were seeking is buried. Blondie looks at his gun, looks at Tuco and says: ‘In this world, there are two kinds of people, my friend: those with loaded guns...and those who dig.’

Conveniently enough, those who have power to bargain are with loaded guns, and those without that dig continuously. The power to bargain is one step in the process of social and political transformation. It requires both will and context.

Though democracy provides context, it is not possible without the will of the people to attain ‘collective bargaining’.

Alexis de Tocqueville takes the will of the people to form associations as an indispensable counterweight to the tyranny of the elite in modern democracy.

The value lies in their nature being different from traditional social and political structure. They are often organised to represent the member’s interest in informal, casual, mild and issue-based manner. Some incidences from rural Sindh prove the effectiveness of such an approach.

The fishing community of Chotiari resisted and succeeded in averting the plan of contracting out fishing to an influential contractor.

In a similar case, groups such as street vendors in Lima, Peru, or garbage collectors in Pune, India, not only negotiate with government authorities but also resort to litigation in the courts.

Association de Recicladores de Bogota, representing more than 25,000 waste pickers played a key role in halting a $1.37 million contract to a private company.

The elite of the Bogota government were awarding this contract for the collection and removal of waste in the city, denying the poor pickers’ right to earn a living.

The ruling elite in China have understood the reality of the poor’s power of bargaining.

After the first agreement in 2003 with wool-sweater workers in the Xinhe district of Wenling in Zhejiang province, they have made 73,000 agreements covering over five million workers. The ruling elite of Pakistan can learn a lot while interacting with their counterparts in China before it is too late.