Pakistan: Workers and peasants march together

Issue 

An historic gathering took place in Faisalabad, the third largest city in Pakistan, on January 29.

The conference, involving more than 10,000 people, was jointly organised by the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) and the Punjab Tenants' Association (AMP), two movements of workers and peasants that, by their defiant activities in several Punjabi districts, have caught the imagination of thousands.

For the first time, these two important movements of workers and peasants in Punjab shared a common platform.

The famous Dhobi Ghat parade ground was a sea of red flags that caught the attention of the incoming crowd.

The high point of the conference was the arrival of peasants from around the country. More than 3000 peasants then joined one procession, wearing their traditional dress and carried Dhool Damaka (drums).

Earlier, over January 27-28, 140 delegates from the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) held their fifth national congress in the same city. Leaders of the two movements took part in the congress as delegates.

In the lead-up to the conference, Faisalabad was decorated with the red flags of the LPP and of the LQM. LQM activists worked day and night to cover all the roads with its signs.

Normally, only the parties of the rich are able to muster the resources to colour the city. In this case, sheer determination to reach as many people as possible got the message out of a new labour-peasant movement.

At a time of daily suicide attacks and bombings, holding the workers-peasant conference was a significant development — uniting the underprivileged classes under their own leadership.

Aside from religious gatherings and rallies, it has been a long time since that many workers and peasants have gathered together in Punjabi.

The conference took place in a tense atmosphere, so only committed activists and workers of the two movements took part. City officials prepared for any unwanted incident by installing security doors and placing ambulances and fire brigade buses on the site.

After the conference, a young worker from Faisalabad told me: "I have come here to see what a labour and peasant conference is. Now I have a telephone number of Mian Abdul Qayum, the LQM leader; I am going to organise workers in my factory."

Several social organisations, including South Asia Partnership, Pakistan Institute for Research and Education (PILER), Patan Taraqiyati Tanzeem, Women Workers Help Line and others, mobilised the women for the event alongside the AMP and LQM.

More than 1000 women took part: peasant women from Okara Military Farms and other areas, as well as women workers from different factories.

The two main conference slogans were for the issuing of social security cards to all industrial workers and land ownership rights to the Mozareen of the military farms. But solidarity and revolutionary slogans were also very prominent.

Conference speakers stressed the need for worker and peasant unity to defeat the politics of the rich and feudal forces. They demanded that all agricultural land occupied by the military farms' administration be given to the tenants, who have been working these lands for more than 100 years.

They called for implementation of the minimum wage in all factories and for a 15,000 rupee ($200) monthly wage. They announced plans to take part in the coming local government elections in Faisalabad and other cities.

Speakers condemned the atrocities of the military in Baluchistan and announced full solidarity with Baloch people in fighting exploitation and injustice. They demanded the recovery of the missing persons.

Speakers came from all over Pakistan representing many organisations and struggles.

Speakers saw the conference as a historic beginning of today's working-class politics in Pakistan.

It was commented that International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank policies are adding misery and poverty to the everyday life of the working class. Speakers demanded the government stop privatisation and provide subsidies for agricultural inputs.

Speaker after speaker stressed the need for political independence from those parties of the rich. Many pointed to the worker and peasant unity at the conference as a practical alternative.

Speakers urged the government to end poverty, price hikes, unemployment and the power crisis.

Pierre Rousset from France's New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) addressed the gathering. He said French workers had secured their social security rights after years of struggle.

Nonetheless, multinational companies were trying to deprive ordinary people throughout Europe of their basic rights. The response needed is international solidarity by the workers of all countries.

Simon Butler, from the Socialist Alliance in Australia, conveyed revolutionary greetings from socialists in Australia. He said Pakistan and Australia might be opponents in the cricket, but workers of both countries need to unite to fight poverty and unemployment.

Many participants felt the power of unity. Rana Tahir, one of the main LQM leaders, told me: "We did this despite all the threats of security.

"We are all happy with the outcome. It is the beginning of working-class politics in the city. We feel the power of the working class to change society."

[Abridged from www.links.org.au. Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Visit www.laborpakistan.org.]