Editorial: May 2013
The First of May
Dr.Rasheed Hasan Khan
This May Day, with the backdrop of explosions and national elections and political parties exhorting the people to vote and elect their representatives to the parliament, it is time to ponder on the relationship between the political and economic system prevailing in Pakistan for more than half a century and the worsening lot of the working people. The bitter truth is that the role of the masses in the democratic process so far remains limited to casting a vote, which is instrumental in inducting a set of politicians in the parliament. The callous attitude of governments to the problems of the people and divorcement of the rulers from the masses remains the order of the day. People participate in elections with great hope and enthusiasm only to be disillusioned within a short period of time. The pre-election promises and lip service to the cause of the people proves to be nothing but a subterfuge to gain votes.
It is an established fact that political systems have their roots in the class basis of the society. Thus, the Westminster model of democratic dispensation, which is being practiced in Pakistan, is basically linked to the class interests of the bourgeoisie. But during the evolution of the democratic system, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Revolution in China had a profound effect on the structure of the bourgeois political system. It lead to the creation of the concept of the Welfare State. In brief the welfare state is more inclusive in scope and tended to take the sharp edge off exploitation by allowing certain benefits in working conditions and social sectors such as health and education. But even before the collapse of the Soviet Russia a new trend appeared in the West, the Neo- Conservative School, which came into full bloom in the last decade of the last century. This was bare bones capitalism, stripped of its Welfare State camouflage. Free market, Privatization and an end to all subsidies and social benefits became the new mantra.
The bourgeoisie in Pakistan eagerly took up the lead and the government imported ‘economic experts’ from the IMF and World Bank to implement the ‘restructuring’ and the ‘reforms’. Sweeping, mindless privatization, an end to subsidies and social benefits saw the working class and the poorest of the poor in Pakistan’s society, deprived of any semblance of support or shelter.
Therefore, we have Old Masters and Young Hopefuls in the election arena, promising mega projects, exchanging vituperation and making tall claims. But not one political party has the sensitivity to feel the dire need to change the lot of the working class.
Today unemployment is the most serious problem confronting the people, giving rise to an astronomical increase in crime and lawlessness. It cannot be denied that apart from poor economic planning, an indifferent attitude towards the resolution of the Energy Crisis has contributed in a large measure to the closure a large number of small and medium sized industries and the failure of numerous other businesses, thus increasing the number of unemployed.
For more than three decades, successive governments have encouraged the introduction of contract labor system that outsourced workers’ recruitment and benefits to a third party, which was not accountable for its actions before any forum. Today there is no trade union in the banking and financial sector while workers have no right to bargain in other private corporations and industries. Less than three per cent of the total workforce is unionized and the absence of trade unions has deprived the workers of their only weapon against unbridled exploitation. Bourgeoisie exploitation and profiteering has increased exponentially because they have been freed from contributing towards pension, social security and other benefits for the workers. The heart rending incidents of factory fires in Karachi and Lahore, resulting in the death of more than three hundred workers last year, demonstrates clearly the extent of marginalization of the working class.
Sweeping privatization has absolved the state of its responsibility towards the the well-being of its citizens and caused great damage to the cause of the people. Vital subjects like transport, communication, education and health, when consigned to the free market is a recipe for disaster for the future of the nation, especially for the deprived and the destitute.
Land reform in Pakistan enjoys the status of the fabled parrot which embodies the soul of the wizard. No government, political or military, is ready to touch it. Though international experience has demonstrated that land reform not only frees the forces of production for economic progress but also contributes towards social and cultural progress.
A majority of Pakistanis in rural and urban areas own no land while 93 per cent of farmers own less than 10 acres of land. The income in the agricultural sector is much less than the minimum wage set by the government. It fails to provide for a decent living incorporating food, shelter and basic necessities. Malnutrition stands as a stark everyday reality since over half of the population is food insecure, with around 10 per cent battling with sever hunger. The agriculture labor force is employed on informal arrangements, exempting it from the application of labor laws.
The population of Pakistan had soared to more than 173 million according to figures quoted by international and national agencies and at least half the population is living below poverty line.
The under-five mortality rate remained high at 95.2 per 1,000 and infant mortality rate at 65.1 per 1,000. A large proportion of our population does not have access to clean drinking water or enjoys the facilities of sanitation. One child dies every minute from nine preventable diseases, diarrhea and acute respiratory infection, 400,000 infants die in first year of life every year and 30,000 women die from pregnancy-related causes. Pakistan had sixth largest burden of tuberculosis (177 per 100,000) in the world. Besides, 500,000 new malaria cases were reported every year. According to government figures, more than 270 per 100,000 women die every year during pregnancy because of non availability of emergency obstetrical care.
Education is perhaps the most neglected sector of Development Planning. Hardly 2 per cent of the Budget has ever been allocated towards education. Most of the allocated funds are spent on meeting the ongoing expenses; there are no resources for expanding the educational facilities. Millions of children of school going age are deprived of education, while the schools in the private sector are making super profits and providing a dubious quality of education. In the interest of the future of Pakistan, It about time the political leadership took stock of the situation and remedied the abysmal situation.
Such is the dismal lot of the working people of Pakistan in the year 2013, more than sixty five years after the creation of Pakistan. It must be understood that no one but the working people themselves can change this situation through a relentless struggle. The Working class must demand to know the stand on these questions from those who claim to be their well wishers and future representatives, and what if any plan of action they have for the resolution of these questions , only then can they claim to be worthy of the vote of a working man or woman.