Food prices and workers’ rights are key issues
May 1st 2008 (119th International Workers’ Day) was celebrated in Kashmir, on sides of the Line of Control [LOC], dividing Pakistani and Indian occupied areas. Events took place at a time of massive increases in the price of food and fuel, the non-payment of salaries and the lack of other rights for the working class, such as the implementation of a minimum wage, the establishment of labour laws and courts and the right to establish trades union.
In POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) members and supporters of TURC-K (Trades Union Rights Campaign – Kashmir) helped organise, lead and participated in the May Day activities, in 7 out of 8 of the districts of the area. Tributes were paid to the historic origins of May Day – the struggle and sacrifice of workers in Chicago in the 19th century, who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of all the working class.
TURC-K and May Day
TURC-K intervened, and sometimes led, at all May Day events and distributed over 2,000 May Day leaflets. Coverage of our activities was reported in the national Urdu newspapers.
This May Day participation was one of the best interventions by TURC-K since it was established in 2005.
In the coming period, public sector workers, in particular, are preparing further protests and strikes against a background of the world economic crisis, massive increases in food prices and working class demands for better working conditions and basic democratic rights. TURC-K will play a major role in these protests.
Dates for forthcoming actions in POK as agreed at the various May Day rallies / meetings
6th May Teachers protest for their service structure (timescale for promotions) on a par with teachers in Pakistan
8th May Strike action – Public sector workers – organised around the Poonch area
13th/14th May Division Employees Alliance – for the implementation of the 20th/21st/22nd May notification of their agreed demands
15th May Health workers demonstrate for setting up of a service structure (meeting on 13th to finalise details)
May Day area reports:
In some places – District Bhimbar, in southern Kashmir, for example – it was the first time that May Day celebrations were held. The event, a march culminating in a rally, was led by health workers, along with other public sector workers, including teachers and electricity workers.
In the town of Barnala (Bhimbar district) over 150 people took part. The Central President of the AJK Paramedical Staff Association (PSA), and other leaders, explained the historic significance of May Day and linked it with the plight of the working class in Kashmir today. They emphasised the need for workers to unite for their own class interests.
At the Divisional Headquarters, over 500 public sector workers (from the public works’ department (PWD), municipal and local council worker, health, electricity, clerical and other sectors), held demonstrations and marched through the city waving banners and placards with ‘Workers of the World Unite’ emblazoned on them. This was the largest programme held in POK. Workers chanted slogans against the government’s anti-workers policies, for an increase in salaries and other demands. The main municipal hall was packed and a joint PSA/TURC-K banner displayed. Mirza Masood, National Organiser of the Democratic Group of Health workers and of TURCK (District Mirpur), highlighted the significance of May Day and the need for the working class to unite and struggle for their rights. The PWD workers’ put forward a charter of demands to the government and the Spintex mill workers’ resolutions were put forward (see below).
In another area of the town, 70 – 80 industrial workers from different factories celebrated May Day outside a foam factory. Maqsood Shah, TURC-K, spoke to the assembled crowd.
It should be added that, with the lack of labour laws, industrial workers, numbering over 25,000 and mostly in the districts of Mirpur and Bhimbar, face tremendous hardships, as they have not been paid the minimum wage. On the 28 April 2008, factory bosses decided to close the largest yarn mill (Spintex) and over 250 workers lost their jobs. No redundancy pay (6 months salary) has been paid (as was agreed in a government notification earlier). Industrial workers are exploited, even being denied their pension rights.
Over 200 workers, mostly from the public sectors, gathered together for a May Day event organised by UEJAC (United Employees Joint Action Committee – a recently established committee organised by members of TURC-K, consisting of workers from the PWD, health education and clerical associations).
This was the first time, in many years, that public sector workers united on a single platform.
Workers began the march from the District Headquarters (DHQ) hospital and were joined by a large contingent of Public Works’ Department (PWD), who gathered at their department building in another area of the town.
The PWD workers, who are traditionally very militant, led the march, alongside health workers, teachers, construction workers and youth. They marched through the town shouting slogans – “Down with the impotent government” – protesting against the increase in prices, against the World Bank, the WTO and the IMF. TURC-K banners were waved, demanding – ‘Formation of labour laws, labour courts and the right to establish trades union! No to anti–labour policies! Scrap the Special Powers Act!’
A public meeting was held at the district council hall with the PWD Divisional President, Sardar Kabir, as chief guest. There were speeches from the PWD, head-teachers, ACTA (College Teachers’ Association) and health and clerical associations. Jamal Khan, (TURC-K), spoke about the present world economic crisis, world food crisis, the Iraq war and the capitalist globalisation. He highlighted the continuing denial of the democratic rights of the working class in Kashmir, including the non-payment of salaries to PWD workers for over 20 months and the non –payment of contract workers wages in health and other departments.
Workers paid tribute to the May Day martyrs and vowed to continue struggle their path.
The following resolutions were passed:
- Expressed solidarity with workers in struggle around the world and paid tribute to the May Day Martyrs and the 1865 (28th April) historic strike of weavers in Srinagar, Kashmir.
- The introduction of labour laws, the formation of labour courts and the right to form trades union.
- An increase in salary for all workers, linked with inflation.
- The approval of service structures for workers in health and education.
- Issuing of notification (by the government) for the earthquake affected workers, whose charter of demands has been accepted by the government but not yet implemented.
- Condemnation of all anti-workers laws and a demand for the scrapping of the Special Powers Act (removal from services) and the Finance Bill 2006.
- The 28th April to be declared as a ‘Workers Day’ at National level to honour the sacrifices of the 1865 weavers.
- Immediate implementation of the recently announced minimum wage (6000 rupees per month) for all public sector workers.
- Expressed solidarity with the yarn mill workers (Spintex) who lost their jobs as a result of the closure of the mill and a demand for payment of 6months salary (according to the government notification) and pension and other benefits.
A May Day rally and gathering of 500-600 workers was reported at the Poonch Division Headquarters, at Rawalakot. This was organised by public sector workers in the Poonch Division Employees Alliance (comprising workers from health, PWD, clerical, electricity technical section, forest, social welfare and judicial sectors). TURC-K leaflets and banners were displayed alongside banners from the Employees Alliance, with the inscription, ‘Workers of the World Unite’ and ‘Follow in the footsteps of the Chicago Martyrs!’ TURCK leaflets were distributed amongst workers. Students also joint workers at a protest meeting of public sector workers.
Health workers were instrumental in organising and celebrating May Day. A rally was organised at the District Headquarters hospital and over 300 workers, from different parts of district Bagh, marched through the town. Public sector workers (from health, education, clerical, College Teachers Associations) and workers from the taxi drivers’ union and journalists gathered outside the local press club. TURC-K was represented by S Ali Sami who presided over the meeting. He vowed that health workers would continue their struggle until the issue of the notification of their demands, accepted by the government in 2007, but not implemented. TURC-K leaflets were distributed.
Resolutions passed were as follows:
- A demand that the minimum wage for workers should be linked with inflation.
- Paid homage to the Chicago workers and vowed to continue their struggle.
- United in understanding the programme and in support of the leadership of TURC-K
There were four different May Day events organised in this area. Over 400 people joined a march from the Municipal Committee Hall, led mainly by PWD workers and supported by other workers’ organisations, including health workers. TURC-K supporters distributed leaflets and spoke at the rally. At the same time, a separate meeting was organised by health workers, in which 30-40 people took part. As well as highlighting the importance of May Day, they discussed the 2007 historic public sector workers’ strike, in the Poonch division, and the need to re-organise and to struggle to get the notification and to get their service structure accepted by the government.