In 1995 trade union leader Arif Shah was murdered. In Pakistan this is not an unusual event.
To be an active trade unionist is difficult and dangerous. Only a week before Arif’s assassination the secretary and chairman of the trade union at Lahore’s largest steel mill were beaten up. Since then countless trade unionists have been attacked. What made Arif Shah’s death unusual is what happened afterwards. Instead of being intimidated and shutting up, a number of trade unionists decided to get together to form the Pakistan Trade Union Defense Campaign (PTUDC) to defend themselves against the employers. During the time that has passed since Arif’s death this movement has become a force to be reckoned with in Pakistan. By linking together existing trade unions and helping to form new ones, the PTUDC has grown. The PTUDC has also succeeded in explaining the plight of the Pakistani working class internationally. It has become more difficult for the employers to attack workers with impunity.
A major problem facing the Pakistani working class is its disunity. Islamic fundamentalists get support among some sectors of the population because they are often the only ones who criticize U.S. imperialism. Women are extremely oppressed. Men and women seldom meet outside the home. Shia Muslims are in conflict with Sunni. And Pakistan is a patchwork of languages and nationalities.
The PTUDC has managed to unite workers, regardless of their sex, religion, ethnic origin or nationality, in a common struggle against foreign and domestic capitalists, the government and fundamentalism. As part of our socialist ideology we fight for the rights of all the oppressed and the protection of minorities.
The PTUDC does not strive to replace the existing trade unions but unite them democratically and eventually form a Trade Union Congress. We publish leaflets, pamphlets and books for education and struggle.
Over the years the PTUDC has waged many campaigns against cuts, privatization and the exploitation of women and children. More recently we have had a major campaign against the new law (IRO2002) that makes it impossible for workers to take their grievances to the National Industrial Relations Commission.
The employers are to be allowed, in principle, to do whatever they want with their workers. They can employ and sack whoever they want and ban trade unions from their workplaces. Trade unions are forbidden in the most important sectors such as the railways and airlines. The right to organize has also been abolished in the public sector, Karachi’s electricity company and other places. Among things, the PTUDC has organized a series of Labor conferences against these measures. The latest one in December gathered more than 63 trade unions, workers’ associations and federations represented by nearly 500 delegates and trade union leaders.
The PTUDC has also campaigned against the USA’s war on Iraq and in neighboring Afghanistan. The PTUDC’s biggest victories have been won among the Karachi steelworkers, where privatization of the largest plant in Pakistan was stopped after a militant struggle, and among public sector workers in Quetta, despite the arrest of almost 200 activists.
Most recently PTUDC is running a campaign in solidarity with worldwide Occupy Movement.
Who supports the PTUDC?
Internationally the PTUDC has got its biggest support in Britain. The TGWU, GMB, NUJ and UNIFI all support the PTUDC at national level. PTUDC groups have been established in many countries such as Spain, Italy, Austria, Belgium, the USA, Canada and Sweden. Such diverse organizations and leaders as the Austrian Young Socialists, Erik de Bruyn (leader of the leftwing of the Flemish Socialist Party), Quebec students, Moroccan activists, Alekos Kalivis (vice-president of the Greek TUC), John McDonnell (British MP), Islington Constituency Labour Party, and the Vancouver Canadian Postal Workers Union have expressed their support for the PTUDC in recent months.
The Program of the PTUDC
- Defense of our trade unions from the physical attacks of the employers. Defend our right to organize!
- Stop the privatization and plunder of state industries.
- For a minimum wage for all.
- The abolition of child labor.
- The abolition of anti trade union laws.
- The abolition of draconian fundamentalist laws against women. Equal rights for women.