Workers’ Ordeal

Published in Dawn on August 22, 2017

Surrealism runs through the streets…
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

GARCIA Marquez’s description of the reality of Latin America fits snugly into scenarios here. Or so it seems. How else would you convey the reality of several worldviews that are bizarre but that actually exist? What strange stories are hidden in the harsh realm of workers and the multilayered reality of, say, a public-sector enterprise that shut down its operations in June 2015 and still has on its payroll 12,000 employees?

When I rang up Mirza sahib, an employee at the Pakistan Steel Mills since the 1980s, and asked if we could meet, he said, “I am stationed in Dalbandin”. It was eerie to hear the melodious name of that faraway town in Balochistan. How come he ended up there? A punishment for activism, a case of enforced transfer, I am told. The PSM has a small iron ore project, now closed, in Chagai district. “The machines are lying on a hill and there is nothing to do.”

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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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