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The Labour Movement In Pakistan History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Zafar Shaheed was born in Karachi and has lived in Geneva, New York, Brighton, Leeds, Vietiane and Khartoum. He has studied at Columbia College, the University of Sussex, and the University of Leeds.The author has worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees before joining the International Labour Office, where he has worked since 1979. This has allowed him to study different socio-economic contexts and to interact with governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations on matters related to labour relations, wage policies and rights at work in different parts of the world. He has several publications on these subjects to his credit. The author carried out field-work in Pakistan in 1972-73 and in 1974-75. He completed his Ph.D. on “Leadership and Organisation of Industrial Labour in Karachi” at the Department of Politics, University of Leeds, in 1977.

The book, “The Labour Movement in Pakistan: Organization and Leadership in Karachi in the 1970s” chronicles the a period of labour history when key elements and structures of the labour movement in Pakistan were formed.The setting of the study is the textile industry of Karachi, the industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan, and the most ethnically diverse city with a long history of labour politics.It provides an indepth analysis of workers, their organization, their leaders and their interaction with management and the state. It extends from the workplace to the workers’ communities to analyse various patterns of relationships among them.

The methodology of the study is intensive fieldwork, interviews, participants’ observations and case studies.

In the first part the writer discusses the origins and development of modern large scale industry. It developed in the Indo-Pak subcontinent in mid-nineteenth century. But the industrial base was very narrow. At the time of independence, the area that constituted Pakistan was virtually devoid of any industry. Therefore the Government of Pakistan was committed to the promotion of industrial base. Immediately after independence, an industries’ conference was convened in September 1947 in Karachi. In 1948, Pakistan issued a statement of of its first industrial policy. The writer later on discusses the framework of industrial relations in Pakistan in detail as devised by the subsequent governments.

Then the writer discusses the emergence of Karachi as an urban and industrial centre. He discusses the workforce which was attracted by the city’s urban and industrial growth, the characteristics of these workers and how they settled in this city. After partition, millions of Mohajirs migrated to Pakistan and Karachi became their major destination. Karachi can be called a Mohajir city because the Mohajirs outnumbered the original population of Karachi. They constituted the major part of the industrial workforce. The other part of workforce was the rural in-migrants who came from the Northern districts of Pakistan. The pattern of relationship among Mohajirs and the in-migrants is different. Because of their earlier entry into the workforce and their industrial skills, as well as their group identity and cohesion, Mohajir workers had better possibilities of moving forward. Whereas the in-migrants were unskilled and were limited to the jobs with relatively lower skills, worse working conditions and lower wages. While Mohajirs were rehabilitated by the government, the in-migrants depended upon personal contacts for entering the urban and industrial life. There grew a patron-client relationship among the in-migrants, a phenomenon that was not found among the most Mohajir workers.

As the central concern of this study is labour leadership and the manner in which social relationships among workers and between workers and employers developed within the existing legal and institutional framework, the writer takes us to the worker in the factory and the worker in the community. The abundance of labour and the need for unskilled labour had given the jobber(overseer) many powers as he could oversee as well as recruit. The worker was dependent on jobber in many ways. So the power politics existed even before the actual recruitment at workplace. To fully comprehend this power, the writer analyses both formal as well as informal relationship between workers, employrs and the mediators. He further discusses how the workers’ consciousness is developed. One is ‘clientelistic worker consciousness’ in which the worker considers his relationship with the employer as bilateral. The other is ‘factory class consciousness’ which persuades the worker for collective action to meet his demands.The various actors that formulate the labour leadership are also discussed. They include the outsiders, the white collar leader, shop-floor leaders and the ex-shop-floor leaders. The book gives an insight into how these leaders emerge and how they replace one another at various stages of labour movement.

While looking at the framework of industrial relationships, the writer traces the history of labour movement and labour militancy in detail. Labour militancy started after first world war. While employers had earnd huge profits and the prices were doubled, there had been no corresponding rise in wages. As a result, a series and strikes began in 1918-19 and continued to escalate. This period of militancy gave birth to the modern labour movement in India. The All India Trade Union (AITUC) was formed in 1920. In the beginning, there was no trade union legislation but afterwards various acts were passed. The notable Acts include Indian Trade Union Act, 1926 and Trade Dispute Act, 1929. The Bombay Trades Disputes Conciliation Act, 1934 set precedent for the future intervention of state in industrial relations. In the western countries this sphere has been reserved for free negotiations between employers and voluntary associations of workers.

These series of legislative acts before independence effected the subsequent legislative framework that governed industrial disputes in Pakistan. Upto 1958, the government depended on labour legislation, conciliation and adjudication machinery that was inherited from undivided India. Then in Ayub Khan’s era, the relationship between business and bureaucracy concentrated the wealth in the hands of leading industrial houses of the country. The 1963 workers’ movement was first powerful resistance movement that challenged the existing power structure i.e., the power of the employers reinforced by state power. It assumed even greater importance during the massive political upheavals against Ayub Khan in 1968-69. There was a tactical alliance between the labour militants and other groups in society that gave the workers a new strength that toppled a powerful regime. The government of Yahya Khan was neither capable nor willing to undertake the any initiative to change the economic system or create amicable industrial relations. Then the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came and nationalized the key sectors of industry. Again labour militancy rose when the government did not fulfil its promises. Its new labour policy in 1972 in fact tightened government controls over industrial relations. The book discusses in detail the journey of labour movement which arose and subsided during this period.

The strength of the study lies in the fact that it is not based on archival material alone. The writer takes his readers to the actual scene of happenings. He does not confine himself to the factory alone but takes us to the community of the workers because the balance of power in the factory is interlinked with the balance of power in the community. The writer has a clear writing style. And the pseudonyms which he gives to various actors in the trade union politics are very witty and they add a strain of humour in the text. Further, the text is supported by data in tabular forms, appendix, index, references and bibliography.

The weakness of this study is that it entirely excludes the women workers. The writer merely mentions some exceptional women labour leaders in his preface. This is misrepresentation of reality which existed at that time. Another weakness is that the author does not follow any chronological order while describing the facts or events. This confuses the reader. Further there are repetitions in his narration. For example, he describes the legal and institutional framework in detail in the first part. Then in his case studies of two factories, he describes the same details again. Even the reader finds that some quotations are given twice in the text of the study.

The research documents the labour movement in Karachi as it stood in mid 1970s but this fact does not decrease its relevance in the current scenario of Pakistan. The policy makers who want to give voice and representation to the disadvantaged labour force would do well to investigate some of the issues raised in this study. Further the students can take up this study and extend its research. The writer has himself guided the readers towards areas for further investigation. And finally the study remains relevant even today because the labour movement in Pakistan is still searching desperately for organizational strength and unity and it has a long way to go before it achieves its goals.

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