By Farooq Sulehria
LAHORE — Two hundred and fifty trade unionists and activists attended a seminar on February 9 which was sharply critical of Pakistan's new military government. The forum was organised by the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and was the first public meeting organised by a political party here to openly criticise the regime. It attracted considerable media coverage.
Salim Raza, the general secretary of the National Trade Unions Federation, flew from Karachi to attend the event. Raza was among 13 labour leaders who had met with military ruler General Pervaiz Musharraf two days earlier.
Raza said he was ashamed of his colleagues who had praised Musharraf and assured him of their cooperation. Raza had told Musharraf that workers didn't believe the regime's promises that it would solve the country's economic and social ills and wanted to see action. There is a growing hatred of the regime amongst the workers, Raza told him.
Raza said the working class has been hit hard by Musharraf's first four months and warned, "We must prepare to fight against privatisation and the other imperialist policies of the regime".
Hina Jilani, the general secretary of the powerful Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and a counsel to the Supreme Court, told the seminar that the previous government's undemocratic actions could never justify a military coup. She criticised those judges who recently took an oath of allegiance to the regime and praised the six who had refused to do so.
The LPP's meeting was timely, Jilani said, because the regime has started a new war against Pakistan's working class. The military will be unable solve any of the masses' problems, she said.
The LPP's general secretary, Farooq Tariq, said that the regime's real agenda had become clear during the four months of its rule. Citing the example of the railways, he said that railway workers' wages have been cut by at least 30% in those four months and their right to free travel has been withdrawn. Thousands of other public sector workers have lost their jobs.
Tariq also pointed out that many of the katchi abadis (shanty towns) in Lahore have been demolished, leaving the residents without shelter or any place from which to conduct business.
Tariq explained that it is not democracy that has failed in Pakistan but capitalist democracy. He predicted that Pakistani capitalism will not be able to revive itself under military rule, and criticised those political parties which supported the military when it took power but are now trying to oppose it. Only the LPP has opposed the dictatorship from the beginning.
The seminar passed two resolutions. One demanded an end to the ban on trade union activity in 15 parts of the public sector and the other demanded that no katchi abadi be demolished without compensation.