The first victory
By Farooq Tariq
This afternoon, after 17 days of strike by over 20,000 power looms
workers in the Jhang district, the bosses agreed to meet the demands.
The district coordination officer (DCO) announced at the textile
workers’ strike camp that all workers would be issued social security
cards. At a meeting the director of social security, the district
administration and employers jointly agreed. This will be first time
that industrial workers in the Jhang district will be able to receive
the benefits of social security, including free health service, special
marriage and death grants and free education for their children at
social security schools.
Only 2.1 million workers out of 45 million Pakistanis in the labor force
have secured social security cards. That is less than four percent of
the total. By law, every worker must be issued a social security card,
however many bosses never register their workforce with the social
security department. Most factory owners pay for a very few workers
while the rest remain at their mercy. Why is this so? The answer is that
bosses are required to pay at least seven percent of each worker’s total
wages into the social security system.
The labor department responsible for implementing the law enjoys their
cordial relationship with the bosses. In fact since 2003, the government
in Punjab has banned factory inspections by the labor department, thus
giving the owners a free hand.
In the private sector, one of the labor movement’s main demands is that
workers be issued social security cards. Already over 10,000 workers
organized by the Labour Qaumi Movement in Faisalabad are enjoying this
benefit, and now the textile workers in Jhang, under the LQM leadership,
have won the same victory.
The second demand, to increase the wage by 17 percent has not yet been
met. However, the owners and administration agreed with the labor
leaders that the outcome of the negotiation in the Faisalabad strike
will be implemented in Jhang as well.
Bawa Latif, senior vice president the LQM, who was responsible
conducting the Jhang strike, told me jubilantly that “finally we have
our day.” For 17 days, workers have remained in several strike camps in
Jhang. The tactic of establishing strike camps and holding daily
demonstrations workers went very well for the first two weeks. The
confrontation was between the workers and bosses. From the beginning
women and children played an important role. In the end it was their
public presence in a city that had been dominated by religious fanatics
which forced both the owners and the administration to accept the
On 19 July the LQM leadership decided to change tactics by relocating
the camps to the front of the DOC office and blocking entry. This added
direct pressure on the district administration. Hundreds of children and
women blocked the office day and night. By 20 July the DCO asked the LQM
leadership to remove the camp. But the LQM refused and explained that
everyone was ready to go to jail.
When I was consulted about the possibility of resisting, we agreed to
stand firm. Along with the leadership of the National Trade Union
Federation I spoke at a press conference in Lahore on 21st July told
said that strike will not end until our demands are met. The media
seemed very interested and instead of firing questions about the strike,
journalists asked when we would strike in Lahore. We told them it will
have to coming to Lahore as well. Today the Urdu and English papers
reported our remarks at the press conference and this also put pressure
on the administration.
The DCO must have realized that repression would only inflame the
struggle not diminish it. So we heard good news.
Meanwhile in Faisalabad, where over 100,000 workers have been striking
for three days, negotiations failed. After three rounds of talks among
owners, the district administration and the labor leadership, no
agreement was reached. The bosses claim to be threatened by the LQM
leadership. They say the question of their security is at the top of
their agenda. In a strange move, they informed the media that they have
also gone on strike: against LQM gangsters. They announced that the
factories will remain closed as if they were responsible for striking.
But everyone knows that it was the strike of the workers that closed
Turning the bosses’ agenda on its head, the LQM leadership announced at
the meeting that they are concerned about the security of the workers.
Since the strike began both bosses and police have employed repressive
tactics and 25 workers have been injured. The violence must stop; the
just demands of the strikers for a wage increase along the lines as
announced by the Punjab government’s minimum wage board should be
adopted. Another round of talks is scheduled tomorrow, 23rd July.
In the meantime, four of the main LQM Saddar leaders remain illegally
detained at the Thekriwala police station: Fazal Ilahi, Mohammed Babar,
Mohammed Riaz and Akbar Kamboh. They are being detained without charges
filed against them. In the Ghulam Mohammed Abad area of Faisalabad
police have brought charges against 300 workers, including Rana Azeem,
for attacking a factory boss and having an illegal gathering. So far no
arrests have been made.
So far there is no sign of disunity or any indication that a section of
workers might play the role of strike breaker. Thus the partial victory
in Jhang can pave the way for an even greater victory in Faisalabad as
long as the working class remains united and the factories closed.