Pakistan: Killed for organising workers

Unionist Mustansar Rindhawa (third from left) with Farooq Tariq (fourth from left). Muntansar was murdered on July 6 for his att

On July 6, while 32-year-old Mustansar Rindhawa was listening to a worker who had not been paid his wages by a textile boss, an unknown person with a Kalashnikov entered the front room and fired.

Mustansar tried to save his life by running to the next room, but 10 people were determined to finish him off.

I met Mustansar briefly on June 19 in Faisalabad, less than a month before his murder. He was one of 30 participants in a trade union training course at the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) offices.

The LQM is a community-based labour organisation established in 2004. It has become the main labour organisation in Faisalabad and is now spreading to other cities.

I had been invited by the Labour Education Foundation, the organisation conducting the program, to speak on “globalisation and its impact on the working class in Pakistan”.

Mustansar Rindhawa and Hamid Shah were introduced to me as two newcomers to the movement. Both were active in small-scale industrial zone of Faisalabad.

Latif Bawa, the LQM vice president, told me: “They are doing an excellent job.”

He said Mustansar was to be “our next candidate for the Punjab assembly”.

Mustansar told me he had heard me speak at public meetings, and said: “I want you to come for my election campaign. You will see the response of the working class and peasantry in my constituency.”

Mustansar was very enthusiastic about the workshop and was eager to participate in future training. At his request, we took a group photo.

Later, while driving to Sarghoda Road, I saw the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) election symbol on the back of a car. As I passed the car, I looked over and saw it was Mustansar driving.

We exchanged smiles — and that was the last time I saw him

On July 6, he was shot dead. His younger brother, Naseer, was also killed in the attack.

The news spread like wildfire. Mustansar had become a popular LQM leader. He was a community leader in his village, which was adjacent to Faisalabad.

On the eve of the LPP’s fifth congress, he attended the LQM gathering at the famous Dhobi Ghat ground and decided to become part of the movement.

Mustansar was asked to start work in an area of Faisalabad dominated by gangsters. There was no union and the LQM did not have much influence in the area.

The bosses used gangsters to terrorise the workers, who were very poorly paid. Some gangsters even terrorised the owners of small factories to demand kickback money.

After meeting the leaders of LQM, Mustansar prioritised building trade unions. He told Rana Tahir, the president of LQM Faisalabad: “You do not have to worry about the gangsters, we will deal with them.

“We are just asking workers to form unions and join the LQM. I am not afraid of any bloody bugger.”

And he wasn’t. Despite all the threats, he posted flyers everywhere and distributed thousands of leaflets asking workers to come to the newly established LQM office.

Within three months of joining the movement, he was elected president of the National Trade Union Federation in Faisalabad.

When I attended his funeral and the protest demonstration, I noticed the flyers he posted everywhere. It was the only poster in his village.

At a time when religious posters dominate walls all over Pakistan, a poster inviting workers to join a union was refreshing to see.

Ashfaq Butt, one of main LQM leaders in Faisalabad, told me yesterday that Mustansar was with him the day before. They spent two hours dealing with several cases in which workers had not been paid minimum wages. Mustansar also won the reinstatement of five workers who had been sacked.

After hearing the news of the death of Mustansar and Naseer, thousands of workers left their factories. Almost all factories in Faisalabad closed and two days later were still not open.

Mustansar was loved by many.

LQM influence is spreading to other cities. In Jhang, an adjacent district, the area’s largest ever workers rally took place on July 7 in protest against Mustansar’s killing.

Workers gathered in Pansra, 20 kilometers from the Faisalabad city center, for a solidarity action. It was mainly young power loom workers who marched. When they arrived in Faisalabad more than four hours later, there were 5000 marchers.

With wooden sticks in their hands, they asked shopkeepers to close their business in memory of the two labour leaders. Hardly anyone resisted.

The famous eight bazaars of Faisalabad around Ghanta Ghar were also closed for a while.

Workers wanted to settle scores with those who argued against closing the shops. The LQM leadership intervened to keep their emotions under control. The police were silent spectators — they realised any attempt to intervene would only aggravate the situation.

The LQM gave police a 24-hour deadline to arrest those responsible for the murders. The police chief assured us he would do his best to arrest the killers.

We decided to keep open the office in which the two lost their lives in the struggle to build a labour movement. LQM activist Anwar Awan took responsibility to mobilise workers to provide security.

Resting at Anwar’s home later, we learned that Anwar had once been one a leader of Anjman Sapa Sahaba, a fanatical religious group banned by the government. He left them two years back to join LQM.

In his late 20s, Anwar gave me a glimpse of the days to come. People from all different traditions and backgrounds will join us as we become a mass force.

In this way, Mustansar will remain alive.

Anwar told us the gangsters cannot defeat us. We came out in our thousands today and both gangsters and working people must have realised the power of the working class.

[Abridged from Viewpoint Online. Farooq Tariq is an LPP spokesperson.]