Trade Unions in Pakistan
This resolution provides an analysis of the labour movement organisations in Pakistan and sets out a strategy for militants.
In recent years, we have witnessed a number of impressive workers' struggles in Pakistan; the creation of the Labour Quami Movement, National Workers' Movement, LQM, the struggles of women health workers and young doctors and the strike of the Pakistan International Airlines, PIA, workers are all impressive examples of the willingness of workers to resist and fight for their rights even under the most adverse conditions. The ongoing dispute in the Water and Power Development Authority, WAPDA, also has a strategic importance for future class relations in the country. Although limited strikes and mass assemblies have not stopped the privatisation, they have at least delayed it.
These courageous struggles, plus a number of initiatives, local struggles and attempts to organise previously unorganised workers, such as our own efforts to build a union of home-based and domestic workers, all demonstrate that the working class can be rallied to its own cause, that it can be organised and that there are militant unionists and working class activists out there, who are prepared to commit themselves to this struggle. The following resolution is intended to help our understanding of the conditions under which such a struggle is conducted and how we aim to apply the rich, but often falsified or unknown, revolutionary-communist tradition in this area of work.
Pakistani capitalism and the working class
After the speculative periods of neo-liberal growth around the turn of the century, Pakistan was hit particularly hard by the global crisis of capitalism. It has become a centre not only of economic, social and environmental crisis, imperialist war, national and social oppression, but also of the growing global rivalries between imperialist powers and blocks. The continuing crisis effectively undermines its own social basis as state – thereby further worsening the social conditions for the labouring masses, the huge peasantry and agricultural labourers and the working class in town and countryside.
The economic and social crisis leads to a growing number of smallholding and landless peasants being driven into towns and cities. There, they contribute to a growing number of unemployed and underemployed. If absorbed into the labour market at all, it is into the “informal sector”. The same applies to the growing population, the youth of the country. For the vast majority of them, capitalism offers no future of stable employment with properly regulated working conditions and recognised employment rights. The same applies to the millions of refugees who have had to flee their homes as a result of the imperialist “War on Terror” and repeated military actions against national minorities.
This all exacerbates a key feature of the labour force in Pakistan. The majority of those not employed in agricultural work are to be found in the “informal” sector of the economy. In 2014, about 43.7 percent of the total labour force worked in the agricultural sector, 14.1 percent worked in industry and 38.2 percent in private and public services. The majority are not covered by any labour regulations. This applies, in particular, to the seasonal workers who make up some 75 percent of all agricultural workers. For them, “informal” arrangements dominate. Depending on the province or region, and the very different forms of ownership in the countryside, these often include forms of exploitation of peasants and rural labourers reminiscent of pre-capitalist societies, although actually introduced in modern times. Whilst formally banned, bondage labour, often in the form of debt bondage, is widespread in some areas, particularly in the brick kiln industry, and estimated to involve some 2 million workers.
Today, about 40 million, the majority of the total workforce of about 65 million workers, can be considered wage labourers in service and industry. About 20 percent of them are women. The vast majority, about three quarters, are employed in the “informal sector”. Many of them work on the basis of short term hiring in what is known as the “contract system”, which has actually been extended and further “deregulated” in the past two decades, under the pressure not only of the IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other “international financial institutions” but also the capitalist class in Pakistan.
For the workers in the “informal” sector, there are no labour regulations governing their working conditions, there are no paid holidays, no job security, no medical cover and no, or hardly any, limit to working hours and so no overtime pay. At the same time, the ruling class and imperialist institutions consider it the “most vibrant” part of the economy and, indeed, the IMF/World Bank have repeatedly demanded, and got, the further expansion of this sector and the scrapping of even very mild labour laws.
By definition, it is difficult to have precise figures for this sector. In 2007, it was estimated that, out of the total workforce of 49.09m at that time, only 17.66m were employees, 16.77m were self-employed and 14.2m were unpaid “family helpers” in the informal sector. Whilst the working class has grown massively since then, and proportions may have changed, this gives a useful impression of the different forms of “work” that the informal sector includes. It should also be noted that many workers in the informal sector are employed on a piece-rate and many are women workers working at home or in small, hazardous workshops. All this means that the working class is to a large extent divided and fragmented, kept in an almost atomised structure via the contract-system and the effective denial of labour rights of any sort.
This system is closely linked both to other divisions within the working class and to social oppression. In recent decades, although the number of women in the workforce has actually risen, this has largely been in the informal sector. In home-based industry, women constitute a majority of the work force and their super-exploitation is often reinforced by patriarchy and women's oppression. They receive lower wages, face sexual harassment or intimidation, non-payment for products and are often totally isolated from other workers. They constitute one of the most exploited parts of the total workforce and one which is systematically paid under its own reproduction costs. This itself reinforces their economic dependence on the family and the husband and, thereby, their oppression. Other major groups, who constitute a large proportion of the informal sector, are children, youth, bonded labourers and migrants who have fled either from war zones or from the impoverished rural areas. Whilst clearly not confined to the informal sector, like women's oppression, national oppression and religious sectarianism also play a role in fragmenting the working class and enforcing its subordination.
Whilst Pakistan does have a minimum wage of 13,000 rupees, about 135 Euro, a month in most provinces, it is ineffective in protecting living standards. First of all, it does not cover important sectors, including large parts of agriculture and the informal sector where piece-rates dominate and there are exemptions from the right to payment of overtime. Secondly, it is not systematically enforced. Even if it is applied, it does not cover the living cost of a family of average size, that is, 6-8 persons, two earning an income.
According to the Labour Survey from 2012-13, the average wage was actually 10,240 rupees, less than the “minimum” of 12,000 at that time. This figure obscures the fact that 24.59 percent earned less than 5,000 rupees a month and 43.83 percent between 5,000 and 10,000 rupees. The gender gap was staggering. Men earned an average of 11,074 rupees while women received only 5,789 rupees on average. Agricultural workers received an average of just 6,221 rupees per month.
This means that the majority of the working class is actually forced to live below the cost of reproduction of its labour power. Most of the working class in Pakistan are forced to enrol their children into the workforce in order to ensure the income for the family. Therefore, it is little wonder that large parts of the working class are unskilled workers, who can easily be replaced by others. More than half of the working class in both town and countryside is illiterate. This is not only a result of the super-exploitation of the working class but is constantly reproduced by it. Being forced to live on an income below their families' living costs, youth and children have to be enrolled as even lower waged “helpers” so that the working class can be reproduced. This, however, means that most of each new generation remain trapped in unskilled labouring because they have not completed their education or had any skill training.
The competition between these workers is further increased by the pressure of unemployment. Although generally reckoned as about 5-6 percent, this figure is very misleading since most studies define “employment” as more than one hour of work per week. Whilst “underemployment” is widespread, so is overtime work, often without pay. More than a third of the total workforce works more than 49 hours a week, in the urban centres it is almost half of the workforce.
The term “informal sector” covers a wide range of economic activity including both “industry” and “services” (and, thus, both productive and unproductive labour in the Marxist sense) and, in addition to sectors of the working class, also semi-proletarians in the town and countryside. Likewise, the contract system, itself a part of the informal sector, can take different forms; workers may be contracted via a third party (a middleman or agency) to work in a company or workshop, they may be “self-employed” or may be directly employed on short term contracts.
The very existence of this huge sector presents enormous obstacles to trade unionisation and action. The “self-employed” worker is hardly in a position to take “strike action” but the workers in home-based industry also face enormous problems, particularly if they literally work at home. On their own, they have hardly any bargaining power. Where actions have taken place by those who work in small workshops, this has often been combined with the need to organise a whole working class area/community.
The contract system and modern capitalism
The “informal sector” and the “contract system” are not only confined to small workshops or home-based work. An important part of the working class is employed in industry, often working under adverse conditions. Large parts of the private sector have hardly any labour organisation and are super-exploited, often, as with the textile industry, working for foreign markets. Here, we find a higher level “contract-system” with many small capitalists employing large numbers of workers and ignoring or circumventing labour regulations while producing their goods for a small number of monopolies from major imperialist countries. This is particularly true of the textile industry, but is also prevalent in agriculture and food processing.
Privatisation of whole industrial companies has even led to an expansion of the contract system into industry. For example, the chemical plant Ittehad was privatised under the PPP-government; out of a workforce of around 2,600 only 30 workers were employed with permanent contracts, the other production workers were fired and either rehired on temporary contracts and, consequently, no employment rights, or replaced by other contract workers. Whilst the union there has been able to raise the number of workers on permanent contracts to 284 over the last 6 years, this is an exceptional case. It nonetheless proves that, even in the private sector, there are unions that can achieve some partial success.
The contract system, particularly in the home-based industries, exhibits many features of the similarly named contract system and domestic industry in the early periods of capitalist development in Europe, as described by Marx in Capital. However it is not, as some believe, an inheritance from an earlier, less developed, mode of production that has not yet been eliminated. On the contrary, today's contract system and other “old” forms of exploitation, have been introduced, and are currently expanding, on behalf of imperialist monopoly capital, by (sub)contractors to huge capitalists in textile or retail, who act as financiers and directors of the whole operation.
Whilst this system clearly incorporates long standing forms of social oppression such as women's oppression, pre-capitalist forms of exploitation, national oppression and religious sectarianism that go back centuries, revolutionaries and working class activists have to understand that these features are actually taken up and enforced by monopoly capital. Thereby they reproduce and feed into an imperialist division of the world market and global chains of production. This point is particularly important because liberals and social-democratic or Stalinist reformists tend to see these backward forms as remnants from pre-capitalist forms of exploitation and patriarchy that need to be overcome by introducing a programme of social reforms and labour regulation as in the Western countries.
In reality, while the informal sector and the contract system make use of traditional forms of exploitation and oppression, their growth can only be understood in the context of the imperialist, that is, the contemporary, global capitalist order. Its requirements are at the heart of the expansion of the “informal” sector, the imposition of the contract system and the enforcing and reinforcing of women's oppression and child labour. Therefore, the struggle for labour rights and the gender, national and religious equality of all workers needs to be linked to the struggle against imperialist exploitation of the country.
The working class in Pakistan is not confined to the informal sector. In private industry and manufacturing, workers in small scale enterprises are, generally speaking, unorganised but even in the larger sites unionisation is very low. The reason for this, however, is different from the small scale industry or workshop. It is a result of defeats, going back to historic, dramatic defeats of the quite militant, left wing unions of the 1970s under the Zia dictatorship and the imposition of neo-liberalism after the cold war.
In Pakistan, workers in the public sector are better organised than in the private. Despite neo-liberal reforms and privatisation, there are still important sectors under state ownership such as PIA, energy companies, rail and parts of the health sector, which are relatively militant and in an economically strong position or relatively popular with the public, for example, health workers.
Trade unions and labour regulations
Whilst precise figures are difficult to find, most of the unionised workers are clearly in the public sector. Union density is very low and not only because of the almost totally unorganised informal sector. In 2007, one survey estimated the number of trade unionist workers as 1.3 million. Whilst this number only included “recognised unions” and would exempt organisations such as the LQM even today, the percentage of organised labour in Pakistan only amounts to about 2 percent. In addition, only a part of these unionised workers are covered by collective wage agreements. In 2007, it was just 800,000 out of 1.3 million unionised workers. These figures themselves vary significantly according to different sources, but there is no doubt that, apart from some sectors and companies, the trade unions in the country are small, fragmented and many of them are not officially recognised. Most of them are not accepted as bargaining “partners”, and most of them are too weak to enforce themselves as such.
Whilst in the informal sector there is hardly any union organisation, recognised unions in the private sector also often tend to be creations of the company they work in and are often “pocket unions” (yellow unions) set up in order to combat other unions at the workplace level, or to prevent them from being founded. By establishing “pocket unions”, the capitalists try to create a force to prevent the creation of a workers' union and, if they cannot prevent that, they aim to use the pocket union to win elections to the enterprise bargaining board of the workers. In the worst cases, company unions or their leaders have even been involved in contracting workers themselves, acting as part of the “contract system”.
The trade union movement is not only weakened by low numbers and the inclusion of such company unions, it is also extremely fragmented. There are about 8,000, often very small, trade unions, and 28 federations. There are three confederations registered as having scarcely more than two thousand members. Given the small size and lack of bargaining power of unions, only about 2,500 of them are actually able to negotiate wages and conditions on recognised contracts.
Compared to the 70s and even 80s, we have seen a clear decline in union density. Whilst the overall numbers have risen in some sectors, this is only the result of a much bigger growth of the total working class since the 60s and 70s. At the same time, membership has declined in important sectors, often as a result of privatisation and subsequent reduction of the work force in those companies. So the workforce in privatised industrial companies has declined from 90,000 (1991) to 29,000 (2002), in banking and financial institutions from 100,000 (1991) to 71,000 (2002), in telecom from 66,000 (2007) to 15,000 (2016) with another 7,000 jobs threatened in the coming months and in electricity from 165,000 (1991) to 130,000 (2002)
Unions are not only fragmented, in recent decades, the labour laws and regulations for unions have clearly and increasingly restricted workers' rights severely. In a number of sectors, most importantly in agriculture, trade unionisation is de facto prohibited. This also applies to administration, the civil service, the army, including its commercial operations, the social sector (health and education), export processing zones and several public sector establishments. Whilst this does not mean that there are no struggles in these sectors, they do not have the protection of even very rudimentary employment rights.
The anti-working class laws also give national or regional governments powers to impose limits on the duration and recognition of strike action. Strikes can be outlawed by governments if they claim that they threaten public order or services for the people. In addition, they can also become subject to “anti-terror-laws” and regulations and the government can dismiss or move disobedient public employees to other parts of the country.
Moreover, trade unionists and workers, particularly in the public sector, face severe repression (job losses, intimidation, physical, even life threatening, attacks) if they take action and, in particular, if they involve themselves in political solidarity with the nationally oppressed or victims of the state's war drives. As we could observe during the PIA strikes this year, even elementary trade union activity and action, like strikes against privatisation, can lead to workers being killed by para-military or state forces. Companies in the private sector may use thugs to intimidate workers and try to prevent them from organising. As we could see in the case of LQM, the state and the bosses are prepared to conspire to jail key leaders of struggles for decades, aiming to destroy the workers' organisations by such acts.
This system of violent class oppression, is complemented by the incorporation of trade union officials/leaders, sometimes combined with intimidation, as well as bribery and simple corruption, and by institutions of class collaboration such as tripartite consultation schemes or joint campaigns for “Islamic values” so that workers and bosses treat each other with “respect”, although these are as yet not well-developed. Whilst Pakistani unions are weak and fragmented, and the labour aristocracy small, many union leaders put their own interests before the needs of the workers. So the bureaucratic and corporatist layer is important and controls most unions, despite the small numbers. Privileges often do not flow from an institutionalised higher wage, but from “smaller” perks (a car, an office etc.) and, more importantly, from more or less open bribery and corruption. The struggle to oust this parasitic caste and break their hold of the unions, is an integral element of the struggle to regenerate unions and create new ones and to reach out to unorganised layers.
Unions and politics
The defeats of the unions in the 1970s and 1980s led to a massive weakening of the unions in the private sector, which were the stronghold of the (far) left, often meaning Stalinists, both Maoist and pro-Moscow. The loss of those unions, and the associated political disorientation, have led not only to the wholesale weakening of unions across the board, but also to the loss of influence of the left in the unions.
The unions in the public sector were often much more closely tied to the state and politically “neutral” or “non-political”. They have not been weakened to the same degree, but are now under threat from the state as can be seen in the examples of PIA, rail and WAPDA. With some exceptions, such as the railway and PIA, sections of the left have been historically weak in this sector, not only because of the repressive policy of the state, but also because the Maoists in particular branded all such unions as “reactionary” and “yellow”. They called for them to be split and for the creation of “red unions”. This latter day version of the policy of the “Third Period” has, as usual, played into the hands of the state and the bureaucrats who continue to control “their” unions, free of any internal left opposition. Today, many of these supposedly “yellow” unions are actually confronted with attacks from the state and thereby also forced to wage at least limited struggles.
It is also in these sectors that a certain union density has been maintained. Generally, the public sector is the largest part of the “formal sector” of the economy with forms of collective bargaining, some labour protection and much higher job security. It is, however, also where the labour bureaucracy of the country has its base. Here, a certain amount of corporatism has been granted. A number of tripartite institutions, such as the Tripartite Labour Conference, Provincial Minimum Wage Boards, the National Committee on the Rights of the Child and the National Steering Committee on Bonded Labour, as well as parliamentary or ministerial bodies like the “Welfare Fund” all incorporate union representatives.
Whilst most unions remain formally “non-political”, they or their leaders are often close to (generally speaking) bourgeois political parties. This may be through their leaders' personal links, through membership of the “labour fronts or associations” of political parties or by simply supporting whatever party is governing, or most likely to win the coming elections, in a specific area.
Whether a union supports a party, and which, is decided by the leaderships or the leader (chairman) of the union. The members are not consulted, are generally not informed and may not even know about the political orientation their leaders advocate. This is just one aspect of the lack of union democracy and control by the membership. Generally speaking, union leaders tend to see the members as their followers, rather than those who should be in command of the union. Therefore, democracy exists, if at all, only on a formal level. Most of the union members are passive and held passive. Active involvement occurs, if at all, only in disputes.
Fragmentation, weakness and defeats have also led to a situation in which not only the leaders of the larger unions, in sectors where they can effectively form apparatuses and are institutionally tied to the state or, in rare cases, to a company, but also of smaller unions, see the union as “their” property. Even though they complain about the real problem of division and low levels of organisation, they do not generally want to give up “their union” or, more precisely, their leadership of it and, therefore, see the merging of unions as a potential threat to their posts, if not the principal one.
The tradition of the left, unfortunately, is not so different from that of “ordinary” union officials and bureaucrats. In unions led by left organisations, the leaders express the political orientation of their union to a left organisation without the members having a say in this or even knowing of it. So the Committee for a Workers' International, CWI, once claimed leadership of a union federation of half a million and described it as “the union of its section”. The members were not only never asked, they were also never informed of this “affiliation”. And, most importantly for the work and actions of the union, it did not make any difference.
This illustrates a widespread political mistake made by groups of the Pakistani left. They follow, sometimes tragically, more often farcically, the traditions of “red unionism” of the ultra-left “Third Period” under Stalin. Unfortunately, not only Stalinist organisations but also groups of a Trotskyist origin mistake this as a “communist” tradition, although actually it is an ultra-left deviation from the revolutionary positions adopted at the first four congresses of the Comintern.
While the Pakistan left de facto rejects the struggle for united, democratic and class struggle industrial unions, which should include all workers of one industry/economic sector and themselves be united in a national confederation of all unions, its advocacy of “red” or “political unionism” is itself politically empty. What it calls “political” in this context is just a formal (and sometimes hidden) affiliation to a political party. What is missing is any struggle to win unions to a political programme that could overcome the limits of “pure trade unionism” by politicising the activity and work of the unions, raising the political consciousness of their members and promoting the self-activity of the class.
If one compares the relationship of the members to the leaders of the “right wing” and “left wing” unions, or compares their trade union activity, they are hardly distinguishable. This is the worst verdict of “left” unions leaders in Pakistan. They actually act as routinist leaders. They confine “their” unions to economic struggles and issues, aiming to avoid political class struggles. Solidarity with other workers or the oppressed is only expressed in words and symbolic actions (if at all). Such an approach does not lead to a “left” or “socialist” unionism, no matter to whom the union may be affiliated, it actually reproduces the bourgeois model of unionism and the division between economic and political struggle.
This is also reflected in the monopoly of control over trade union organisation exercised by these leaders, leaving the members as followers. Such a policy reproduces passivity and political backwardness among the workers and it leaves them isolated and individualised when faced with social, political and ideological attacks from the ruling class. We can observe this particularly on questions related to social oppression. There is widespread ignorance and even reactionary positions among trade unions and their members on such issues as the oppression of women, youth, national and religious minorities but also on war and imperialism and defence of democratic rights.
One of the clearest expressions of the Left's inadequacy on trade union organisation is its passivity when faced with the need for the working class in Pakistan not only to organise the unorganised and to unite the unions on a democratic and class struggle basis but, most importantly, to fight for the creation of a mass working class party. It should be a priority for revolutionaries to raise this as an objective in the unions, in the workplaces, in towns and in the countryside and to fight for them to play a central role in the creation of such a party. Its failure to do this is one key reason why the Awami Workers' Party, AWP, has stagnated, probably shrunk, since its foundation. It is why it has remained nothing much more than a merger of three left organisations who divide the leading posts between themselves, rather than a rallying point for workers, trades unionists and whole unions who are looking for a working class party, independent of the parties of the Pakistani bourgeoisie, be it PLM(N), PPP or PTI.
Key tasks for rebuilding the trade union movement in Pakistan
The lack of a working class party is itself a key reason for the weakness of trade unions in the country. Given the enormous political and social obstacles the working class faces in this task, and the repressive nature of the state, we have to be clear that the unionisation of the huge numbers currently unorganised is itself a political task. It should not be thought that a working class party will be created as a result of the successful creation of new unions or the revival of old ones. Rather, the current situation poses the task the other way round. The building of mass, fighting unions and the organisation of the unorganised, needs the leadership of a political party.
The very difficult conditions facing the working class reflect the crisis ridden nature and semi-colonial dependence of Pakistani capitalism. Trade unions and workers who want to build unions in their workplace and branches of the economy need to recognise this in developing their strategies. Any limitation of activity to “pure” trade unionism would, at best, repeat the failure of the existing unions and the mistakes of the current union leaderships. This could mean either an ultra-left tendency to create “red unions”, leaving other sectors untouched or an economistic schema, keeping politics out of the unions and rejecting the need for a political party of the working class, independent of all bosses' parties as a key element to develop the trade unions themselves.
Revolutionary trade union and workplace work has to be conducted as part of the class struggle of the whole working class and has to aim to overcome the limits of trade unionism. This in no way means neglecting the immediate problems facing working class people, or turning a blind eye to immediate demands or the struggle for legal reforms and improvements. It does, however, mean conducting these struggles as part of a broader, socialist struggle for the emancipation of the working class as a whole, the struggle for a socialist revolution in Pakistan.
For the union movement to overcome its weakness and fragmentation, united action is needed. One key aspect is the struggle to repeal all anti-working class and anti-union legislation in the country! For this, a united, political campaign of the trade unions and all working class organisations (left parties, initiatives) is needed.
Every sectoral struggle, even every attempt to unionise workers, rapidly confronts the barrier of anti-working class legislation, legal threats and victimisation, of harassment, intimidation, the use of police and security forces, beating up or even killing of workers. Whilst every initiative faces these problems, they obviously cannot be solved at the workplace level or even in one single branch of the economy. Only a mass political struggle, rooted in the workplaces and unions, could overcome this by means of mass demonstrations, pickets, sit-ins and political mass strikes.
At the same time, this, like most other working class demands, will pose the question of unionisation of the workers, of organising the unorganised. Despite, and sometimes because of, their adverse situation, union leaders have generally neglected the “informal sector” and contract labour and rural workers. Sexism and patriarchal ignorance are widespread. Women's role as oppressed is all too often reproduced not only in the workplace, but even in the trade unions. The same applies to the youth, which is of particular importance in a country where they constitute a growing part of the (working) population.
The struggle for trade unionisation therefore has to go hand in hand with a campaign to open the trade unions for all workers and to create new unions in previously unorganised sectors. All the socially oppressed; women, national minorities, youth, need to have the right to caucus. This means the right to have meetings of their own, where they can address issues of sexism, harassment, discrimination, national or youth oppression, religious sectarianism, in order to push the union and other workers to support them in their struggle, to ensure full participation and to fight discriminatory behaviour in the labour movement itself.
We propose the closest collaboration between the trade unions for this task, not only between leaderships but also at the rank and file level via joint meetings, including unorganised workers who want to engage, the creation of joint action committees for such campaigns and by laying the ground not only for new unions, but also for their merger on a democratic and class struggle basis.
A campaign to organise the unorganised needs to go hand in hand with a campaign to fuse the unions on a democratic class struggle basis. The leaderships must be elected by their members, accountable and recallable from below. They must follow the decisions of those they represent.
This is not only the best way to challenge bureaucratic attitudes and policies, it is also the best way to broaden the basis of active involvement, raise the confidence and political level of the membership as a whole. This is doubly true in a country like Pakistan. Strikes, occupations, all means of working class action, will face quick repression from the state or other reactionary forces. Combatting this requires a maximum of unity among the workers involved. Organised picket lines and self-defence are needed. These, however, can only be successful if they are based on an active, self-organising workforce in the respective company or branch of the economy and if other sectors organise effective solidarity action.
For us, democratic unions do not contradict the need for strong and determined leadership of struggle, but they can ensure that the leaders struggle for working class demands and not for half-hearted compromises and they will also ensure that the determined leaders and class fighters can rely on the determination and solidarity of the workers.
In the current situation, we do not “only” propose a joint struggle for full union rights and repeal of all anti-working class legislation. We also propose a programme of action, around which we want to develop our struggle, merge unions and create new ones in previously unorganised sectors.
Key demands for next period
Ban the contract system, bonded labour and other forms of “informal” employment; abolish all pre-capitalist forms of exploitation.
All workers should be employed according to a contract set by the unions and overseen by the unions and local committees of workers. Instead of piece-rates and similar forms of payment, all employment contracts should be based on the length of the working day or week. All wages and conditions should be subject to agreements with the respective unions and workers in the workplaces. These contracts should establish the minimum conditions, below which workers cannot be required to work.
For a living working class wage for all
We fight for a minimum wage for all in the provinces, towns and countryside; men and women, old and young, set by the trade unions. The unions need to take action against any form of unequal pay and discrimination based on sex, nationality, religious beliefs or age.
Against inflation, we fight for a sliding scale of wages, indexed to the increase in working class living costs. The percentage increases should be determined by committees of working class women and trade unions. Workers' committees in the workplace and communities need to control the implementation of wage increases and the minimum wage.
Equal wages and conditions for women, fight discrimination and harassment of women
Women need to receive the same wage as men for the same work, the same applies to young people. Child labour should be banned with a minimum age for employment of 15 years. Women do not only need to be paid the same wages as men, all forms of discrimination have to be fought at every level; in basic education, in training, so that women are not largely confined to unskilled and badly paid jobs. In the workplaces and communities, there should be all-day, high quality, child care and kindergartens available for free, so that women's double burden of workplace and housework is reduced as a step to the socialisation of housework.
Social security, pensions, sick leave pay
All workers need to have free access to education and training, health services and pay during sick leave and pensions that allow them to maintain the average standard of living. All should have a minimum holiday determined by the labour movement.
Massive state funding, via taxation of the capitalists, landlords and the superrich, needs to go into improving public services for all, including a massive programme of training and employment of new teachers and health workers!
Every year, thousands of workers are injured, dozens, if not hundreds, die due to lack of elementary workplace security and safety. Workers' inspections need to control safety standards in workplaces, those employers who do not comply should be expropriated without compensation, with the nationalised companies then run under workers' control. The same applies to those who pollute the environment, poison rivers in working class areas and do not even follow the existing environmental laws. They should be brought to justice, expropriated and forced to compensate.
No to privatisation, no to IMF-programmes, cancel the debt!
Privatisation has not only led to massive job losses, expansion of the contract system and de-unionisation, it has also meant a decline in services for most people and higher prices. The state and the imperialist institutions (IMF, WB, …) demand ever more draconian measures. The working class needs to fight this in every sector and wage a struggle for the re-nationalisation of privatised industries and services without compensation. The funds to improve existing services need to come from taxing the rich and the profits of the capitalists, whether foreign or Pakistani.
The massive drive to privatisation and the scrapping of employment protection laws in Pakistan is not only a result of the crisis and interest of the ruling class in the country, but also of foreign capital and imperialist institutions. Therefore, we fight for the cancellation of all foreign debt, the scrapping of all imperialist conditions used to impose privatisation or anti-labour legislation.
A programme of public works, an economic plan in the interest of the masses
The economic, social and environmental crisis of the country, the disequilibrium between town and countryside etc. cannot be overcome by the market. The idea that it could be “regulated” in such a way is utopian.
The unions need to demand a programme of public works to improve infrastructure, energy supply, housing, social services, health and education. This will not only allow the creation of jobs for millions but also benefit the entire working class, the peasantry, even large parts of the rural and urban petit-bourgeois and middle strata. Such a project can only be organised, if the banks, large scale industry and the big corporations are nationalised under workers' control.
By workers' control, which we fight for at every level, we do not understand a (reformed) tripartite scheme as already exists in some sectors. Workers' control means that workers, organised in their unions and in committees elected by the rank and file, control the decisions of the owners and management. It means that workers can veto all decisions, can and will review the business plans, safety standards, contracts and the books of the companies.
Workers' control, whilst it may start in an individual enterprise or branch of the economy, by definition means to challenge the bosses' or managements' “right” to run their company. Therefore, it can only be temporary. It will either be destroyed under attack or institutionalised into corporatist forms or it will need to be generalised and linked to the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system, the repressive state apparatus and replace them by workers' and peasants' councils and a democratic plan to prioritise the needs of the working people, to organise production according to need, not profit.
Fight for a working class party!
This is just one expression of the need to combine the struggle for better conditions, workers' rights etc. within the capitalist system with the need to overthrow the system itself. This shows that the trade unions we fight for should be class struggle, democratic unions, open to all workers from all political and religious beliefs (apart from fascists), but unions in which we fight for revolutionary leadership.
However, such unions will only come into being if active, militant unionists and all workers who do not remain outside politics or leave politics to the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties, be they “populist”, neo-liberal, Islamist or any other anti-working class brand, unite to create a party of their own. This must be a party that fights for mass unions that do not limit themselves to economic issues, but fight all forms of oppression (of women, minorities etc.), who fight against the denial of democratic rights, against war, military rule and imperialist domination of the world. A party that fights to link the struggle against the current system with the struggle for socialism internationally.