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Pakistan: 50,000 textile workers strike
Four-day strike forces government and owners to accept workers' demands
MORE THAN 250,000 power looms (small weaving units) remained closed for four days in Pakistan's third largest city, Faisalabad, the hub of the country's textile industry. (For this reason it is known as 'the Manchester of Pakistan'.)
Khalid Bhatti, Trade Union Rights Campaign of Pakistan (TURCP) Faisalabad
The reason for this shutdown was the tremendous strike of power loom workers. Thousands of workers marched through the main industrial areas to build solidarity with the strikers. More than 50,000 workers went on strike and thousands of others decided to join them in solidarity.
The provincial government im-mediately intervened. It accepted that the previous agreement would be implemented in full, which had not been done until this strike. The workers ended the four-day long strike and mass demonstrations following negotiations with the government.
The strike started when the power loom owners attacked a peaceful workers' demonstration. The demo (in Sadhar, an industrial area near Faisalabad airport) had been organised to press the owners to implement a previous agreement signed by the owners and workers.
They decided to march towards the factory of the main leader of the power loom owners' association and PML-Q (Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid-e-Azam) MP, Aasif Ajmal. He refused to listen to the workers' leaders and instead opened fire on the workers. As a result nine workers were seriously injured.
This vicious attack enraged the workers, who retaliated by setting fire to the factory. In an outburst of anger the workers then ransacked some other factories. As soon as this news spread across the city, thousands of workers walked out and took to the streets in peaceful protest demonstrations.
The workers announced a strike in protest against the brutality of the employers. The workers' action committee announced the strike for an indefinite period.
The strike remained strong and solid for four days. Thousands of workers took to the streets in protest demonstrations across the city. The strikes and mass protests paralysed the local government administration.
The workers were demanding the arrest of the factory owner involved in shooting on the workers and the full implementation of the agreement. The force of the protest demonstrations and solid strike compelled the authorities to arrest the accused and send him to prison. They were also compelled to announce that the agreement would be fully implemented.
The power loom workers are demanding social security cover in the industry and an increase in wages. The owners are using delaying tactics in the implementation of the agreement.
These workers are working in inhuman conditions and suffer grinding poverty. They have to work their entire lives until they die because there are no pension rights or other support facilities available to them. The average wage is £25 to £35 a month.
These workers have also been denied their right to organise unions in the workplace. In the last few years, the workers have started to organise themselves under the banner of workers' action committees in the different industrial areas.
Nearly one million workers are employed on more than 250,000 power looms in the city. This strike has had a big impact on the workers in different industries in Faisalabad and surrounding areas.
It shows the anger and potential that exists within the working class. Power loom workers have been fighting for their rights for many years but the struggle has intensified in the last three years. This is because the workers have become better organised and more confident to challenge the owners and authorities.
The Trade Union Rights Campaign of Pakistan (TURCP) actively intervened in the strike and mass protests. It produced special leaflets and distributed thousands of them, to the striking workers.
TURCP members actively participated in the organisation of the strike and demonstrations. As a result of this and other interventions the TURCP is building and strengthening its reputation and authority as a fighting workers' organisation in this second largest industrial city of Pakistan.