|What is the PTUDC?|
|Wednesday, 05 April 2006 09:48|
The Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign (PTUDC) is an international solidarity campaign which was set up following the assassination of Arif Shah, the President of the Punjab Labour Federation by hired agents of the employers in 1995. That brutal act highlighted the harsh situation faced by the trade union movement in Pakistan.
The PTUDC openly declares its views and aims in response to the need for working-class militancy and solidarity in Pakistan.
Repression in Pakistan; Need for Workers’ Power
The recent assassination of Arif Shah, the President of the Punjab Labour Federation, by hired agents of the employers opens up a new chapter for organised labour. After taking action to block the main Lahore-Karachi highway for more than five hours, 20,000 workers attended Arif Shah’s funeral the following day and pledged themselves to carry on the struggle.
This brutal act highlights the harsh situation faced by the trade union movement in Pakistan. A situation that can no longer be tolerated. It arises from the increased repression of the employers in their drive for increased profits and the general break-down of society.
In Karachi alone, 700 people have been killed in the last two months in growing ethnic and communal violence. The national question, and the oppression of national minorities has become a burning question, with horrific consequences throughout Pakistan. Crime, murder, arson and bloodshed have become a common sight as the social fabric of society is progressively undermined.
A week before the murder of Arif Shah, the President and General Secretary of the Steel Union (PRU) at the Ittefaq Foundry in Lahore, Mahmood Butt and Ghulam Miran Shah, were attacked and beaten by hired thugs. Their only crime was the organisation of an independent trade union that directly challenged the bosses and their company unions. The Ittefaq Foundry is owned by right-wing leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The conditions of the workers are miserable. Food prices are soaring and inflation is running at over 25% (the false official figure is 14.3%, which is even ridiculed in the newspapers). According to conservative estimates unemployment is 10 million - and rising by 10% annually. There is no unemployment benefit or welfare state. The literacy rate is a mere 14%. Child mortality rates and the death of women during child birth are one of the highest in the world.
According to the United Nations “Education for All summit” in New Delhi, only 29% of Pakistani children were enrolled in schools (the figure for girls was below 20%), compared to the next worst level which was Nigeria with 59%.
Brutal exploitation is rife. Over one million children work in the carpet industry, another million are employed as domestics, over 300,000 as bonded labourers in brick kilns together with many more in soap factories, small garages, shops etc. Added to this must be added the many street sellers, ragpickers and beggars.
Families are forced by extreme poverty to send out their children to work or worse. Bonded labourers are forced to take loans from their bosses at high interest rates which in order to attempt to repay means they have to accept low wages. Workers cannot run away as there is no where to go and in any case the rest of a debtors family would then become liable for the debt. They are forced to sell their children into what is nothing short of slavery.
In the last 10 years the population increased by 33%, while the basic infrastructure and services, like roads, communications, health, education, electricity and sewage etc. increased by less than 6%. Meanwhile, more than 90% of the GDP is spent on debt servicing and the armed forces.
The mass of Pakistani workers, ever since the revolutionary wave of 1968/9, have looked to the Pakistan Peoples Party for salvation. The hopes and aspirations of the masses are bound up with its name. Unfortunately, the present PPP government of Benazir Bhutto, in its search for economic aid, has succumbed to the pressures of the IMF and World Bank. It has therefore embarked upon a programme of privatisation, cuts in subsidies, and is opening up the economy to the exploitation of the international monopolies. This goes directly counter to the founding programme and principles of the PPP, and the ideas that Benazir’s father stood for.
This has produced great ferment in the rank and file of the party as well as its supporters throughout the country. There is growing widespread resentment against these attacks on living standards within the trade union movement, and also within the PPP Labour wing itself.
The opposition faction headed by her brother, Murtaza Bhutto, is calling Benazir’s actions “an outright betrayal of the founding principles and ideals of the party”. Her mother has also been forced into opposition, after being removed from the PPP leadership. At the same time, a strong left opposition (”The Struggle”) is developing in the PPP. This left has taken up the struggle against fundamentalism and the capitalist and landlord elements that have hijacked the party. Arif Shah was one of the main trade union leaders of this left wing which holds allegiance to Marxist ideas.
As a result of the assassination of Arif Shah, leading trade union activists have established the ‘Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign’, sponsored by the Punjab Labour Federation, the United Labour Federation, the Progressive Workers Alliance, the Railway Workers Union, the Nation Union of Postal Employees, Manzoor Ahmed [Information Secretary, PPP Labour Bureau (Punjab)], and many others. Our programme is the following:
1) Defence of our trade unions from the physical attacks of the employers. Defend our right to organise!
2) Stop the privatisation and plunder of state industries. Renationalise those privatised firms under workers’ control.
3) For a minimum living wage for all,linked to the cost of living.
4) The abolition of child labour. For free education and health.
Shahida Jabeen (National Secretary, PPP Women’s Organisation, and Secretary, Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign)
P.O. Box 840,
GPO, Lahore, Pakistan.
(Shadida Jabeen has been politically active in the PPP since 1972 where she became the party secretary in Lahore. She was arrested in 1978 for demonstrating against the Zia dictatorship and sentenced by a military court to 12 months imprisonment. She was incarcerated, along with her five month old daughter at the Rawalpindi prison. She was rearrested in 1982 and beaten and tortured in the Fortress of Lahore. She spent 8 months in solitary confinement and went on hunger strike. after that she was transferred to goals at Kotlakhpat, where she remained until 1984. He brother was also held in the Fortress on charges of terrorism. He was sentenced to death and hanged on 6th August 1984. From 1985 to 1988, she was repeatedly arrested and held for short periods. She is now the National Secretary of the PPP Women’s Organisation.)
The Struggle continues!