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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 April 2010

Socialist Movement secretary speaks to The Socialist

Progressive Workers Federation of Pakistan founded

In Pakistan a new left-led trade union federation, Progressive Workers Federation of Pakistan (PWFP), is being built, in which members of Socialist Movement Pakistan (SMP) - part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) - are playing a key role. The Socialist spoke to PWFP finance secretary and SMP leader Khalid Bhatti about this important new development.

We started building the new federation last year but it was not officially registered until 25 February 2010. It arose out of the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP) that was formed in 2005 to organise a fightback against privatisation and attacks on workers' rights. Some union officials and activists in TURCP thought we should go further than a campaign, and set up a registered trade union federation, because as a campaign it is difficult to represent workers in an official capacity.

Socialist Movement Pakistan has been fully involved throughout. Four of the nine officials of the new federation are members of SMP, including the secretary general.

Why was it necessary to build a new formation? What were its founding principles and policies?

All the other trade union federations are like NGOs, involved in projects of the International Labour Organisation, of various Social Democrat linked parties and bodies in Europe etc, and they make no serious effort to build a working class movement. Also, when we visit workers in the industrial areas, they ask "which industrialists have hired you to spy on us?" because the private sector federations have such a bad reputation. Some of the officials are collaborating with the bosses and secretly receiving payments for it.

But there are genuine class fighters on the ground who want to organise a fightback against the bosses' attacks. The new federation has been set up to assist workers' struggles and resistance, and to help workers to organise. We stand for solidarity with workers internationally and that is part of our policies and principals; we will give solidarity to workers' struggles in any country.

What size is the federation and how is it structured?

So far it encompasses 23 trade unions. The total number of workers in these unions, together with workers who have joined the federation as individual members, is just under half a million. Every union has equal representation on the federation's executive board.

Which sectors of industry and services are these unions in?

The private sector unions involved include unions from the following industries: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, textiles, power generation, ceramics, telecoms, transport, the informal sector, agriculture and the commercial sector.

The public sector unions include unions from: television, radio, rail, post, banking, gas and health.

Does the federation cover all the provinces and major cities in Pakistan?

Yes it covers all areas because it includes national unions that exist in all parts of the country.

What issues is the federation taking up at the moment and what workers' struggles is it currently involved in?

We are campaigning on three issues. Firstly, for implementation of the legal minimum wage in the private sector. Public sector workers receive at least the minimum wage but most private sector workers receive less.

Secondly, against privatisation. And we link campaigning against retrenchments and the price hikes of basic goods with our anti-privatisation work, because a free hand to make these attacks has been given to the private owners.

Thirdly, for the repeal of all anti-trade union, anti-worker laws. Three anti-union laws have been repealed by the government but others remain. We want new pro-trade union policies on labour rights and industrial relations.

We are currently involved in three workers' struggles:

What is the federation planning to do on May Day?

In Pakistan there is a strong tradition of having united workers' demonstrations and rallies on May Day. This means that in some areas we will participate in demon-strations organised by other bodies such as May Day committees, while in other areas (particularly in parts of Sind and Punjab provinces) we ourselves will be the main organisers and other organisations will come to participate.

We will be producing a leaflet in two languages (Urdu and Sindhi) and a poster.

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