Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Daily Times Editorial may 3, 2012

Working class woes May Day commemorates every year the martyrdom of the American workers of Chicago in 1886, peacefully agitating for an eight hour working day (normal working days at that time stretched up to 20 hours), eight hours of rest, and eight hours of leisure time. This year, May Day was commemorated amidst one of the worst recessions to hit the global economy since the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s. All over the world, the pain of the recession has been borne by working people, including even qualified professionals, who have joined the ranks of the unemployed in the millions. On the other hand, despite the fact that the financial sector was the real culprit because of its unregulated casting off of prudence, many of the big banks have been bailed out by taxpayers’ money and are currently reportedly flourishing in the midst of the miseries inflicted on the people. The day was commemorated all over the world in anger and amidst gloom. Working people demanded an end to the austerity policies that have deepened the recession, instead demanding a stimulus to revive struggling economies to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary citizens. In Pakistan too, the working class came out in strength to put forward its charter of demands that have found repetition every year because governments and employers have done little to overcome the miseries of unemployment, inflation, load shedding, etc. In addition, the workers’ organisations have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 20,000 or 12 grams of gold, the abolition of feudalism and abandonment of privatisation (a disaster here). They have also demanded that false cases against workers for trade union activities be taken back, the favourite tactic of employers in collusion with the police. Other demands include the reinstatement of sacked workers, withdrawal of the condition of 50 workers in a unit for trade union registration in Punjab, rooting out the contract system, registration of brick kiln workers and the abolition of bonded labour. On the day, an unseemly ‘race’ was witnessed between the federal and Punjab governments to appear more worker-friendly than the other. So while the prime minister (PM) announced an increase in the minimum wage from the present Rs 7,000 to 8,000, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif went one better by raising it to Rs 9,000. The problem of course is that the current Rs 7,000 minimum wage has yet to be implemented across the board, especially in the private sector, where the absence of labour inspections on the pressure of employers has left this and other aspects of industrial relations unmonitored. In addition, the PM announced 12,000 homes for workers, seven schools, seven industrial homes and four community centres. Shahbaz countered that by getting elder brother Nawaz to distribute the keys to 1,296 flats to workers. The real problem now is that after the 18th Amendment, most if not all labour issues are dealt with by the provincial governments, where there are many lacunae and flaws. The issue for the working class in Pakistan (and arguably in most other parts of the world) is that their problems and demands have to be negotiated with governments not necessarily inclined to concede a living wage, employment and reforms to equalise to the extent possible the privileges of the rich with the deprivation of common folk. Socialism, once the banner under which most workers’ movements struggled, may not have lived up to its promise of a just society free of the exploitation of man by man, but the present conjuncture clearly indicates that triumphal capitalism’s inherent contradictions have come to the fore once again with a vengeance. In these difficult times, new forms of struggle are and will arise (e.g., the Occupy movement). But perhaps the real need is for the working class to intervene in politics on its own behalf rather than rely on the largesse of governments not necessarily willing to accede social justice. In short, the working class in Pakistan (and arguably elsewhere) needs its own party or movement to fight for its special interests that are congruent with the interests of the vast majority of people on this planet.

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