Lessons of History

Published on June 8 2016 in Dawn

THE convoluted history of the labour movement in Pakistan is replete with negativities: state oppression by both military and democratic regimes, ethnic and ideological divides among workers, employers’ subversion of genuine workers’ representation through pocket unions, to name a few. Yet it was a brief, two-year flicker of industrial labour struggle that stood out for its promise of labour solidarity and potential for sustained movement, had it not been extinguished by Z.A. Bhutto’s civilian martial law regime in June 1972.

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Coolies on Contract

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016

“…Every acquisition that is disproportionate to the labour spent on it is dishonest.”

— Leo Tolstoy

BRONZED-FACED, wearing faded red shirts with a number stitched in white, soaked in sweat, coolies old and young sit astride a pavement under the scorching sun, waiting for passengers to arrive at the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station. A few balance loads of luggage on their red turbans as they walk briskly towards the platform. A precarious livelihood, you might say. Indeed it is, and worse: coolies have to pay a 30pc commission to their contractor from their meagre daily earnings, plus a monthly fee of Rs750 — sans any workplace facilities.

Yet the contractor is not satisfied: he wants his cut raised to 40pc. Sounds outrageous?

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Contract Work and Greed

Since money, as the exciting and active concept of value, confounds and exchanges all things, it is the general confounding and compounding of all things—the world upside down—the confounding and compounding of all natural and human qualities.

Karl Marx

Increasing prevalence of contract work in the labor market is a global phenomenon. Low production cost and increase in productivity–the reasons cited by economists for contract labour—both lead to wealth accumulation. Thus, the hidden motive behind contract work is desire, or greed of the employer, for more profit, more money. No wonder, then, contract work is so confounding that even the ILO finds it full of complexity and riddled with ‘conceptual’ problems.

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