A huge workers’ rally marched from Hospital Chowrangi to Dawood Chowrangi in Landhi, an industrial area of Karachi, under the banner of Red Workers’ Front, to demand higher wages in the face of grinding poverty and sky-high inflation.
Wages are miserably low in Pakistan. Despite historic inflation of more than 50 percent and currency depreciation of around 100 percent in two years, the official minimum wage is stagnant, at around Rs. 25,000 ($78) per month. This is insufficient to support even one person, although the workers have to take care of their whole families on this income.
A few months ago, the government announced that the minimum wage will be increased to Rs. 35,500, which is still very low as compared to inflation and the cost of living. But even this increase has not been implemented, and workers are still working on lower wages. In this situation, the RWF planned to organise a protest rally for higher wages.
Marching in front of important factories like Gul Ahmed Textiles, Al-Karam Textiles, and others, the rally reached Dawood Chorangi and took the form of a large meeting of workers.
A week-long campaign was carried out to ensure the success of the rally. Workers from Landhi and Korangi Industrial Areas; Rajbi Industrial Unit; Artistic Milliners; Junaid Jamshed; Yunus Textiles; General Tyres; Shabbir Tiles; I.I.L.; Export Processing Zone; Landhi Labour Square; and from other residential areas were also invited to participate in the rally. The political paper of the IMT in Pakistan, Worker Nama, was also sold during the campaign.
Moreover, a general body meeting of the General Tyres Workers' Union was held, which included hundreds of workers from the factory. Attendees were invited to participate in the rally. Throughout this campaign, in addition to the teams of various units and neighbourhood committees of the Red Workers’ Front, young comrades of the Progressive Youth Alliance also participated.
The Red Workers Front had organised such protest rallies and campaigns in the recent past. Especially noteworthy was a magnificent rally, organised two years ago, for wage increases. This was a powerful expression of the power of workers, on an uncommon scale in Karachi in the past 30 years.
During the campaign, the efforts and role of the Red Workers Front were highlighted and appreciated by the workers.
The workers speak
The rally itself included workers from various factories and areas of Karachi, including General Tyres, I.I.L, Merit Packaging, Steel Mills, Yunus Textile, and Rajbi, as well as a significant number of young members and university students from the Progressive Youth Alliance. The participants were holding placards demanding issuance of notification regarding the promised increase in minimum wages, and other basic rights. They also raised slogans for their particular demands.
Comrade Anam Khan assumed the role of stage secretary when the rally reached Dawood Chorangi, and briefed the participants about its aims and objectives. Central Vice President for RWF Pakistan, Safdar Jabbar, gave a brief introduction of the RWF to participants of the rally. He emphasised worker's unity and the importance of class struggle in his speech.
Naveed Aftab, General Secretary of the Progressive Labour Union Steel Mills, spoke about the history of the labour movement in Pakistan, for which Karachi has been the central hub. Whenever the ruling class attacked the workers, the workers of Karachi were the first to come out. He emphasised that the government will continue to attack us until we are united and struggle for our rights. He appealed to workers of different institutions to unite against privatisation policies, and emphasised the need for a general strike in his speech. He ended by raising slogans against capitalism.
The next speaker was Mr. Zia, General Secretary of I.I.L union, who criticised forced expulsions of workers from their jobs in I.I.L and other sectors. He said that workers in I.I.L are being paid Rs.18000-20,000 per month, even the previous minimum wage of Rs. 25,000 is not being paid to them. He said that workers cannot survive on these wages and are living under extreme conditions.
Junaid Baloch from PYA Karachi discussed problems faced by university students. He said inflation is affecting the lives of workers and students alike. Therefore, students and workers have to fight against capitalism together. He said the ruling class of Pakistan, a puppet of imperialism, is attacking the working class on behalf of its masters. He said that workers, peasants and students of this country should revolt against this system and overthrow capitalism.
Anam Khan, who was chairing the gathering, offered solidarity to the masses protesting against rising electricity bills in Kashmir and other cities across Pakistan. She said that these protests have taken the form of civil disobedience and are growing in numbers each day. She announced that the Red Workers’ Front stands in complete solidarity with these protests and demands a decrease in electricity costs. Anam Khan said that masses are being misled by the government and electricity workers are being targeted as a result. She said that the crisis of capitalism, coupled with anti-people government policies, are the cause of higher costs of electricity and overall inflation. She said it is the responsibility of the labour movement to show solidarity with these protests.
Paras Jan, the central leader of Red Workers’ Front, congratulated Red Workers’ Front Karachi for organising a successful rally, and the workers who participated in this rally for fighting for their rights. He emphasised intensifying and expanding the struggle and said that the ruling class never gives any relief voluntarily to the workers by cutting down on their luxuries. He said that what the workers want to achieve can only be won through continuous struggle. He said that an increase in pensions and raising of the minimum wage to Rs. 25,000 in recent years was the result of the struggle of the working class. He said that whenever we demand our basic human rights, we are labelled as non-believers by the paid elements of the state. He said that we will continue our struggle against capitalism, which has completely failed to give us a better life. He said that we have to overthrow capitalism and build a socialist society to end the miseries faced by the majority of people. He invited all the participants to join the Red Workers’ Front.
Aziz Khan, President of the General Tyres Workers’ Union and RWF Karachi was the last speaker of the rally. He congratulated the workers for a successful rally and invited them to join the RWF. He said that RWF has become a prominent representative of the working class all over the country. Especially in the last two years, the struggle of the Red Workers’ Front for the workers of Karachi is commendable. He said that judges, journalist elites, politicians and bureaucrats are being given salaries and benefits worth millions of rupees, but there is no water, electricity, gas or any other facilities in the houses and neighbourhoods of the workers.
Concluding his speech, Aziz Khan told the participants of the rally that the day is not far when workers will come out in their millions and fight the final battle against this system.
Down with capitalism!
It should be noted that almost two months have passed since the approval of the latest budget from the assembly. The Sindh government has not yet issued a notification for increasing the minimum wage. Where the prices of all necessities of life, including electricity, fuel, food items are soaring, the rulers are busy enjoying their luxuries. The People’s Party in Sindh is spending millions of rupees daily on TV advertisements about increasing the minimum wage to Rs. 35,500 but has not issued the notification for this change, and workers are still working on the previous, lower minimum wage.
The fact is that, even today, in most companies workers are being paid between 24,000 to 28,000 rupees per month while the informal sector pays even less. The anti-labour People’s Party is spending millions of rupees on fake advertisements, but they will never increase the wages of workers whose children are dying of hunger.
The participants of the Mazdoor rally reiterated that, until wages are increased, we will continue to advance this struggle across the city, including Landhi Korangi. The participants declare that, in order to stop the continuous attacks of the ruling class on the workers, this struggle must be geared towards the overthrow of the capitalist system. The workers can never be justly rewarded for their labour while living under capitalism.