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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 May 2009

May Day reports

Widespread protests in Pakistan

Hundreds of thousands of workers took to the streets across Pakistan to celebrate May Day. Workers from different sectors of the economy, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and religions marched together to cut across rising religious, national and ethnic tensions.

Syed Fazal Abbas Shah, national organiser Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP)

The workers rejected the neoliberal economic policies of the present government and demanded better living conditions and services.

TURCP produced a special May Day leaflet in two languages which was distributed throughout the country. A special May Day issue of Socialist was also produced.

TURCP Sindh organised May Day activities in Karachi, Mir Pur Khas, Mehar and Larkana. In some cities we were the only organisation doing anything. We produced a special leaflet in the Sindhi language.

In Mir Pur Khas 14 trade unions and social movements participated in a labour conference of more than 250 trade union and social activists. The original idea was to organise a rally and to march through the main streets, but the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government imposed a ban on rallies and protest demonstrations in the province. The PPP labour wing had an official rally in which just a few dozen workers participated.

Despite all the difficulties, the May Day conference was a big success in which TURCP Sindh organiser Hameed Chanah played an important role. In Mehar, the only May Day activity was organised by TURCP in which around 300 workers participated.

In Tharri Mohabat town in Dadu district, TURCP organised the only May Day activity in which hundreds of Beri Mazdoor (cigarette workers) participated. These workers have won two important strikes in the last six months. Their union was formed by TURCP members who are still actively supporting and helping to strengthen this union in this feudal dominated area.

TURCP Karachi organised a joint meeting with four other unions in the largest industrial area. More than 400 industrial workers participated. In Larkana, TURCP organised a meeting in the largest public-sector hospital. More than 100 health workers participated.

TURCP members also intervened in the other cities and towns of Sindh and distributed leaflets and other material.

TURCP organised or intervened in almost all the cities in Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan. TURCP and textile workers jointly organised a public meeting in Faisalabad, the third largest city in the country and the hub of the textile industry. Nearly 2,000 textile workers participated. TURCP international secretary and Socialist Movement (CWI Pakistan) member Khalid Bhatti was the main speaker.

Working conditions

Leaders of the unions described the horrifying situation faced by the textile workers. They are working 12 to 16 hours a day without being paid for months. When these workers protest against non-payment of wages and terrible working conditions, the mill owners threaten to shut down the factories.

There is widespread anger and hatred against the bosses and government. Even the minimum wage is not being paid to the workers. The speakers strongly condemned the anti-worker policies of the PPP government and announced a country-wide protest movement. Khalid Bhatti also spoke at the rally organised by the railway workers' union.

In Sahiwal, Muzafar Gar, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan, TURCP organised and participated in meetings and rallies of hundreds of workers. In Lahore and Islamabad, TURCP members intervened in rallies and meetings.

There were very few May Day activities organised in the North West Frontier Province, which is under attack from Taliban fighters. The rising tide of religious extremism and rapid Talibanisation in this province made it impossible to organise any sort of activity in many cities and areas.

But the trade unions and TURCP were able to organise activities in Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadah, Nowsherah and Dir upper.

The main activities were in the provincial capital Peshawar, in which about 2,000 workers participated. The TURCP May Day leaflet was distributed, which got a good response from the workers. One TURCP member also spoke from the official platform.

In Mardan, the second largest city in the province, TURCP participated in a jointly organised meeting in which more than 150 workers and social activists participated.

The workers, trade union, political and social activists vow to continue the joint struggle against religious extremism. In a unanimously adopted resolution, the participants demanded proper services and living facilities for the families coming from conflict zones.

There are hundreds and thousands of internally displaced people, forced to leave their homes by insurgent Taliban groups or military operations.

Religious extremism

In Dir, TURCP organised a small meeting in a very difficult situation. This city and the surrounding areas is a centre of religious extremism. TURCP members are facing constant threats from the Taliban and other religious extremist groups.

TURCP intervened in the main rally and public meeting organised by all the main trade unions and federations in Baluchistan. May Day activities were badly affected by the murder of three Baluch Nationalist leaders in the Turbat area.

The whole province has been paralysed by the continued strike and protests. The situation is very volatile in this province which is already suffering from nationalist insurgency and state repression.

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No 2 EU - Yes to Democracy

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Socialist Party news and analysis

Swine flu: The real issues behind the headlines


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