City and the migrant labourer

Published in Dawn on June 30 2014

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspective deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — Italo Calvino

CONCEALED within a leafy neighborhood, crushed between 1,000 to 2,000 square-yard bungalows, in Jamshed Town, Karachi, invisible to the world of comfortable living, exists an enclave of narrow alleys, haphazard and shabbily constructed one or two-room dwellings of the city’s migrant workers. Called Bano Colony, this surreal settlement, with upper storeys jutting out here and there, reminds one of the narrow labyrinthine alleys in Shagai, one of the katchi abadis in Mingora, Swat.

Inhabited exclusively by Pakhtuns, this enclave has two entry points: the east side leads to male-only living; the west end opens to family quarters. On entering the male-only section, for a second you feel you are stepping into the ruins of a demolished structure. Here the rent of one small, windowless room, shared by six (or more) males — minor, young, old — along with a communal kitchen, is Rs6,000 per month.

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Missing trade unions

Published in Dawn on June 16 2014

FOR the cynic, or for a gleeful employer, the trade union is a dying breed, perhaps already dead; for a die-hard optimist, the trade union — like a phoenix — is arising from its own ashes. But dead or alive, trade unions are definitely evolving into newer shapes. Driven to the wall in the current cut-throat, neo-liberal, capitalist era, trade unions are fighting precarious employment and multinational corporations by banding together across the globe.

However, it is not the first time that trade union bodies are coming together. Major international trade union federations had emerged in Europe and the US after the Second World War to claim their rights from the state and national capitalists. Now their adversaries are the powerful multinational corporations and financialised capitalism. Since the beginning of the 21st century, international trade union federations are realigning themselves as global unions and reaching out to workers across continents.

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