National Sections of the L5I:

The Labour Quami Movement - A rather different trade union

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The trade union movement in Pakistan is weak and fragmented. Only about two percent of wage earners are organised and they are divided between several thousand individual unions, "federations" and "confederations".

Moreover, even these are heavily concentrated in the public sector, large parts of the private industrial or commercial enterprises, such as farms, are union-free zones. In addition, the existing associations are often politically tied to bourgeois parties, especially to the former ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party, PPP. Their leaders and staff are generally seen as corrupt and are more closely associated with management than with the employees.

The dramatically poor state of the unions reflects the weakness of the labour movement more generally. In the 1970s, it was very militant and strong, but the military dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq used clerical-fascist gangs, as well as the secret police, to crush it, inflicting a strategic defeat from which it has not recovered to this day.

New approaches

The weakness of the trade unions should not, however, be taken to mean that there are no significant strike movements of the working class or no mass movements of wage earners, peasants and the urban and rural poor. On the contrary, in recent years, there have been important strikes by junior doctors, female health workers and, more recently, nurses in Lahore. Currently, there is a huge protest movement in the district of Gilgit in the north of the country. Out of these actions and battles, new, mass organisations have emerged.

One of the most impressive of these is the "Labour Quami Movement" (LQM = National Workers' Movement). At its heart, the LQM is a trade union of textile workers, but it also functions as a kind of community organisation in working class districts. In Faisalabad, a city of some 7 million and a centre of the textile and clothing industry in Pakistan, it organises the power loom weavers.

Overall, according to comrades of the LQM, there are approximately 200,000 workers in Pakistan employed as weavers and 500,000 in related trades. The LQM as an organisation is above all based in Faisalabad where it organises 45,000 workers in 26 neighbourhood groups. These groups represent the backbone of the movement, because the purely workplace organisation is too fragmented; average workforces are between 70 -100, too small to act en masse. It is also important to recognise that the LQM, although it undertakes important basic union tasks, such as the struggle for higher wages, is not yet officially recognised as a trade union. The fact that companies are, nonetheless, prepared to negotiate pay rates with it, is due entirely to its ability to mobilise tens of thousands of workers, with up to 200,000 at major rallies.

In addition, the LQM is not a "pure" trade union. As a glance at its history shows, it has always been involved in political campaigns and battles, for example, against the dictatorship, and has stood in some districts as a separate list in the local elections. In addition, it has also organised protest movements, for example, against religious divisions and campaigns to combat poverty.


The LQM was founded on 3 December 2006, that is, still under the military dictatorship of General Musharraf and during the State of Emergency. This was preceded by preparatory, illegal work from 2001. Conditions in the workplaces at that time were similar to slavery, as they still are in some sectors, such as the brick kilns, in Pakistan. In 2001, the weavers and their families held a May Day rally and the state responded with massive repression and long prison sentences for the alleged "ringleaders". However, by 2004, the movement had revived through a campaign against rising food prices.

After its creation in 2006, the LQM achieved some initial successes; a wage rise of 500 rupees was followed by the enforcement of a minimum monthly wage of 7,000 rupees, approximately £42.

In 2010, the LQM started another campaign that continues to this day; the demand for the abolition of piece wages. Piece wages have a fatal consequence for the textile workers because, when there is a power failure, and this is frequent in the summer months, they cannot operate their looms and, therefore, earn no wages. In this way, the capitalists shift some of the costs of the ailing power supply system onto the workers.


In July 2010, the LQM called for a strike against the refusal by the bosses to implement the agreed 17 percent increase in the minimum wage. As workers left the textile factory in Fazal to join the strike, they were shot at from the factory building. Some resolute workers went back to the factory in order to disarm the gangsters who had been hired by management to intimidate the strikers.

Later, at the main rally in the city, the demonstrators were attacked again, this time by gangs throwing stones and the police who fired tear gas at the demonstrators. While this was happening, and unknown to the strikers, a room in the factory was damaged by fire. This was later used as evidence of the violence of the strikers who were accused of "wanting to burn down the factory".

Three days later, a complaint was registered with the police that named 14 leaders of the LQM, including the six local strike leaders and referred to150 unknown "accomplices". Despite the circumstances, the defendants were charged under the "anti-terror" laws. Three months later, one defendant was brought to trial for alleged attempted manslaughter of the four factory owners. The defendant was accused of using firearms although there had been no previous mention of this.

On the basis of this contrived indictment, the presiding judge, Mian Muhammad Anwar Nazir, found all the defendants guilty of all charges and handed down sentences totalling 490 years in prison. In practice, this means about 10 years for each of the six activists, since some of the penalties imposed can be served concurrently.

New leadership

For the continued functioning of the LQM, however, the repression marked something of a turning point. A growing proportion of the members and of the relatives of those imprisoned were more and more dissatisfied with the leadership of the LQM. They accused the leadership not only of being undemocratic and distant from the membership but also of inconsistency in defence of the convicted trade unionists.

In 2012, the leadership refused to accept the results of a new election or to continue funding the families of the imprisoned members. This internal conflict undoubtedly weakened the LQM but it survived and is continuing to grow. In 2012/13 it successfully forced a wage increase, organising a mass strike and a "march to Lahore", the provincial capital of Punjab, which involved up to 100,000 people. While the employers and the government had previously rejected any negotiations on the claims, they relented after the march had only gone about 30 miles.

It is such militant, determined action and the ability to mobilise both the workforce and the community, which has been the real strength of the LQM .
Their main campaigns at union level today are:
- The fight for registration as a trade union, which will probably be achieved soon
- The fight for higher wages and abolition of the piece-work system
- The struggle for a Social Security system, at present only about 20,000 workers in the industry are covered.


In many respects, the LQM provides a model of a fighting organisation; its members are deeply rooted in "their" city and "their" companies. It is supported by the militancy of its membership and by a high degree of activity. All this shows that workers can create strong fighting organisations, even under the toughest conditions.

However, the LQM comrades have actually only received support from some parts of the Pakistani Left. The International Trade Union Confederation and industrial unions from the imperialist countries have so far shown no interest in working together with them, a political scandal, but typical of the attitude of western bureaucratic trade union apparatuses to trade unions in Pakistan.

As a militant trade union, the LQM faces major challenges; first, a probable recognition as a trade union will inevitably raise the question of institutionalisation of their relationships with the companies and the state and with that will come the risk of creating a "normal" union complete with routinism and a bureaucratic apparatus.

Finally, the "purely trade union" battle, no matter how militant its leadership, remains just a trade union struggle, a struggle within the framework of the system of wage labour. Important, as it is to lead this fight, and those for municipal improvements and campaigns, there are other questions posed, questions about the political orientation of the LQM.

In the past, the LQM has rightly opposed all attempts at incorporation by bourgeois parties, such as the Muslim League when it was in opposition. Many in the LQM agree on the need for a class party of the working class and the Awami Workers' Party in Faisalabad works closely with them.

However, the behaviour of parts of the AWP, led by Farooq Tariq, who sided with the defeated old leadership, refusing to recognise the democratic choice of the LQM members in the internal dispute, has led to scepticism regarding politics among many members of the LQM. Understandable as this may be, it is very short-sighted. If the LQM wants to become a politically independent organisation, it cannot merely wait for someone else to build a workers' party for it and then support that.

It is precisely this attitude, that ultimately leaves the initiative to others, instead of taking the initiative itself, even on political matters that reflects a political weakness of the LQM. However, this can be overcome by active involvement in the political reshaping of the Pakistani Left and in the political debates in the Awami Workers' Party. By taking its place on the left wing of this movement, the LQM could make a decisive contribution to building a new revolutionary workers' party in Pakistan.