Pakistan: Unionists for jailed for 490 years on ‘terror’ charges

Power loom workers in Faisalabad went on a series of major strikes and demonstrations in mid-2010. Six leaders the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM, the organisation of Faisalabad power loom workers) were arrested by the police.

Once detained, they were charged under anti-terror laws. The six have been sentenced to a total of almost 490 years' jail (served concurrently). The jailed LQM leaders are also members of the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP).

This is a clear message of how "anti terror" laws are used against workers. The LPP is calling for demonstrations outside Pakistan embassies and consulates around the world.

Four LQM leaders — Akbar Ali Kamboh, Babar Shafiq Randhawa, Fazal Elahi, Rana Riaz Ahmed — were arrested on July 22 last year by Faisalabad police after a power loom workers' strike for a 17% wage rise.

Two other leaders, Muhammad Aslam Malik and Asghar Ali Ansari, were also arrested under the same charges four months ago.

They were falsely accused of burning down a factory.

The arrests of the workers under terrorism charges and sentences by the court is the result of a campaign by factory owners, the district administration and local politicians against the rising power loom workers' movement in Faisalabad.

More than 100,000 power loom workers in Faisalabad district took part in the strike — which was for a wage increase in line with the rise in the minimum wage for private sector workers declared by the government.

It was reported that during the strike, the workers remained peaceful but the owners of factories and their henchmen and police used violence against the workers. Twenty-five workers were injured, including Tahir Rana, president of LQM Faisalabad district, who was critically injured. About 100 workers were also arrested.

Anti-terror laws are frequently used against protesting industrial workers in Punjab. Thirteen trade union leaders are facing such charges of terrorism. Their real crime is fighting for a better life for their members and demanding higher wages.

The Punjab government is all out to crush any trade union movement in factories that challenges its authority.

The Faisalabad workers are being singled out by the Punjab government because they are political and LPP members.

Please protest where ever you are. Please take up the case in your organisations and pass a resolution to condemn the jail sentences and issue public statements to the newspapers.

[Please send motions and messages of solidarity to the Labour Education Foundation: Ground Floor, 25-A Davis Road, Lahore, Pakistan. Tel: 92-42-36303808. Fax: 92-42-36271149. Email: Website: Abridged from Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]