Map of Resistance

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017

INVISIBLE to the frenzied world of urban dwellers, and anchored in the rural hinterlands of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, live communities of peasants — small farmers, tenants, sharecroppers — joined together in their tumultuous fight against forces bent upon usurping their rights to land, to produce and to continue their way of life. La Via Campesina (literally ‘the peasant way’) is a unique international labour movement representing 200 million rural workers in 73 countries.

Today, April 17, is the International Day of Peasants Struggles celebrated by La Via Campesina the world over to honour the 19 members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement who were shot dead by the military police on this day in 1996 in the village of Eldorado Los Carajás during a demonstration against federal appropriation of land cultivated by 3,000 rural families.

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NYC Transit Workers

Published in Dawn on August 11 2016

I HAD come to believe that the gloom that surrounds trade unionism in my part of the world was a global phenomenon, and that collective bargaining negotiations were dying practices. Not so in New York.

The public transit union, called Local 100, which represents 42,000 workers and retirees of the city’s public transportation system (subway, buses and surface trains), is currently gearing up its campaign for a new charter of demands with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), due in January 2017. The union holds elections every three years and negotiates a collective bargaining contract every five. In the first week of August, the union held a two-day workshop to discuss campaign strategy in order to win a fair deal.

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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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Modern Labour

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016

The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. — Antonio Gramsci

THE old world of the labour movement started unravelling in the 1990s when finance and production went global, kicked up by unbridled capitalism. In the new system of production, traditional labour relations — characterised by long-term employment, job security and workers’ representation — fell apart. In developing countries, union density plummeted. Was it the end of organised labour? Or, have new forms of labour solidarity started filling the vacuum?

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Justice and Impunity

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016

IT was an early March morning in 2009 and I was cruising along one of the primary roads in the central business district area of Dhaka city where many of the ready-made garments (RGM) factories are housed in old buildings.

Young girls in droves, dressed in shalwar-kameez, were emerging from the side lanes, stepping down from the buses, crossing the road, chatting on the footpath, bending over street vendors’ wares now and then and heading towards their factories for the morning shift.

I was in Dhaka to get a sense of what makes Bangladeshi RGM women workers organise for their rights. I climbed a narrow staircase of a building where many girls had gone. The factory was on the first floor. From the small landing I looked through the iron grille padlocked from outside: women bending over sewing machines in rows. A surly young man guarded the door: “outsiders are not allowed”, he told me.

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Domestic Workers

In the morning hours when you leave for office you find women, young and middle-aged, sitting in groups at the edges of the streets of several localities in Karachi — North Nazimabad, Gulshan, Garden, PECHS, Clifton — some chatting, a few ruminating, a couple doing needlework.

These are domestic workers waiting for bajis, their employers, to wake up, open the doors of their homes and let them in to the world of work that exists at the fringe of the labour market. It is one that is bereft of job security and decent wages and excluded from the scope of labour laws.

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Baldia factory fire: two years after

Published in Dawn, September 11th , 2014

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” — Voltaire

IT has been two years since Pakistan’s worst industrial disaster took place in a garment factory in Baldia Town, Karachi on Sept 9, 2012. A fire in the factory that day led to the loss of 259 precious lives and injuries to 55 workers who got trapped in the building because three out of four doors were locked from the outside. Locking the workers inside the premises is not uncommon in garment factories exporting to international buyers. An inquiry report released by the FIA as well as the case proceedings revealed violations of labour laws, safety laws and building by-laws by the factory owners and a number of state institutions.

Two notable aspects of the follow-up to this disaster are the nature of the criminal proceedings in the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the compensation to the bereaved families. Developments in both took place due to the pressure built by civil society organisations.

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