Dr.Rasheed Hasan Khan
Industrialization in Pakistan began with the Korean War Boom in the 50’s of the last century. The Korean War created a huge demand for raw material such as jute and manufactured goods like textiles etc. The textile industry grew as a result of government patronage with organization like WPIDC&EPIDC (West Pakistan &East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation) providing industrial loans at very attractive terms , with a minimum investment by the capitalists concerned.Thus apart from two or three houses with a connection to industry, any one in the good books of the Government had the opportunity to invest in and own a textile factory.
In this atmosphere the textile industry became the leading sector of Pakistan’s industry.At this point in time it is estimated that 25% of the textile mills were unionised.The figures for 2015 however are less than one percent !The textile sector trade unions had a majority of honest and dedicated Trade Union leaders, who would not hesitate to fight for the rights of the labour as was amply demonstrated during the the Great Mass Upsurge against Ayub Dictatorship in 1968.
This concrete demonstration of the organised working class strength sent shock waves through the ruling classes in Pakistan. It was decided to eliminate this threat to ruling class hegemony.Thus the liquidation of trade unions in SITE and Landhi industrial areas, which was started in 1972 during the Bhutto regime, neared its fruitition during Gen. Zia’s rule. All organized trade unions were wiped out and the system of Contract Labor was introduced instead. Under the contract system, the workers were not considered to be the employees of the industrial unit they were working in, but treated as the employees of the contractor who supplied the labor to the industrial unit. Thus the owner of the industrial unit circumvented Labor Laws which stipulated mandatory payment of Health Insurance, Accident Insurance, and payment of wages for medical and casual leave. Through this process the owner of the industrial unit saved millions of rupees. The workers, under Labor Laws, also could not be fired without the due process of law. This was not to the liking of the owners who wanted to run their factories like feudal estates. Over and above the economic issues mentioned, the elimination of Trade Unions removed a powerful platform for political resistance to Imperialism, feudalism and authoritarian civil or military regimes. This was perhaps most attractive to the bureaucracy and the forces of exploitation.
The perpetuation of a system which is at variance with Pakistan’s Law, conventions of International Labor Organization (ILO) and the norms of natural justice is possible due to the silent acquiescence of the major political parties on the political scene in Pakistan. If the professions of these political parties about solving the problems of the downtrodden masses is to be treated as anything other than hypocritical cant, they must give a better account of themselves with regard to an issue affecting the very existence of millions of Pakistanis. There must be an immediate end to the contract system in all industries. Workers right to organize in Trade Unions must be recognized and implemented. A thorough survey of all industrial units throughout Pakistan must be undertaken and all violations of law taken cognizance of and penalized.