Pakistan: Workers' power in Faisalabad

July 5, 2008

On June 24, more than 10,000 workers picketed a power loom factory in Sadhar Faisalabad for more than eight hours. They were demanding the arrest of the owner of the factory and his gangsters.

The factory owner, Asif, a Muslim League Q member of the Punjab Assembly (MPA), directed his gangsters to open fire on the 300 workers protesting outside the factory for higher wages. Seven workers were shot and severely injured.

The workers of all the power loom and textile factories of the area walked out in protest and picketed the factory. The workers were led by the local leaders of Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), an organisation of textile workers, supported by the Labour Party Pakistan (LPP) and several radical social movements.

The main leaders of LQM were busy elsewhere in Faisalabad, where workers have taken action for better wages. Almost half of the Faisalabad power loom workers had been on strike for two days.

Faisalabad is the largest textile city of Pakistan. A private television channel broadcast live from the scene of the picket, bringing more workers.

The gangsters were forced to remain inside the factory. The workers demanded the arrest of Asif, who had already fled the scene. Hundreds of police were mobilised from all over the district. As police tried to enter the factory to rescue the gangsters, the workers resisted.

Police used tear gas, and some fired shots directly at the picketers. The workers retaliated with stones and forced the police to retreat. More and more workers joined the picket.

As we heard the news in Lahore, four of us left for Faisalabad immediately. When we arrived, police were already in retreat. As we waved our red flags, hundreds of workers came to shout slogans against the police and for workers' solidarity.

I spoke and warned the bosses of a nationwide campaign if Asif was not arrested. We also told workers not to burn factories and avoid violence, as it always plays into the hands of the state. Earlier, some enraged workers had burnt three factories owned by the same boss.

As I finished my speech, I was told that yet another worker had been hit by a bullet had been found in a nearby field. I rushed the injured worker to hospital in my car. Workers feared he would be arrested if they dared to take him to hospital. I drove through hundreds of policemen and asked them to give way so I could take the worker to hospital.

A nearby main road was closed by hundreds of women belonging to the families of the workers. They took the decision on their own to close the road to create more pressure on the administration. This was the result of urging by the LPP for the workers to involve women in the movement.

Eventually, the workers allowed the police to enter the factory. I returned to hear that the Punjab labour minister Ashraf Sohna was rushing to the area. By now, it had become national news. Sohna came straight to where we were standing.

Aslam Meraj, labour secretary of Punjab LPP, gave a brief account of what had happened and made it clear that until the workers' demands were met, we would not end the picket. Sohna told the big crowd that he would get Asif arrested and would not leave Faisalabad until the arrest. He said all the workers' demands would be met.

We then proceeded to negotiate with top police officers. The senior superintendent of Faisaladad told us that he had arrested Asif and nine other gangsters, and recovered 15 guns from the factory. We agreed to provide a safe passage to the arrested gangsters. We asked the workers to let the police van come close to the factory and take away the arrested ones. This was done, although some workers still threw stones in anger when the police van was leaving.

As we left for Lahore at 10pm, all the roads around the area were filled by young workers.

It was a workers' day at Faisalabad. A new history of militant struggle has been written by the power loom workers. They have shown the power of the industrial working class.

[Abridged from Farooq Tariq is an LPP spokesperson. Email or visit]

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