Pakistan: 50,000 workers strike – power looms shut down in Faisalabad

Four day strike forced the government and owners to accept workers demands

More than 250,000 power looms (small weaving units) remained close for 4 days in Pakistan’s third largest city, Faisalabad, the hub of country’s textile industry. For this reason it is known as the, Manchester of Pakistan.

The reason of this shut down was the tremendous strike of power looms workers. Thousands of workers marched through the main industrial areas to build the solidarity with the striking workers. More than 50,000 workers went on strike and thousands other decided to join them in solidarity.

The provincial government immediately intervened. It accepted that the previous agreement would be implemented in full which had not been done until this strike. The workers ended the four day long strike and mass demonstrations following negotiations with the government.

The strike started when the power loom owners attacked a peaceful workers demonstration. This had been organized to press the owners to implement a previous agreement signed by the owners and workers. The workers organized peaceful protest demonstrations in Sadhar, an industrial area near the Faisalabad airport. The workers decided to march towards the factory of the main leader of the power loom owners association, and PML-Q MP, Aasif Ajmal. He refused to listen to the workers leaders and instead open fire on the workers. As a result nine workers were seriously injured.

This vicious attack enraged the workers. They set the factory of this PML-Q MP alight. In an outburst of anger the workers then ransacked some other factories. As soon as this news spread across the city, thousands of workers walked out and took to the streets in peaceful protest demonstrations.

The workers announced an indefinite strike in protest against the brutality of the employers. The workers action committee announced the strike for an indefinite period. The strike remained strong and solid for three days. Thousands of workers took to the streets in protest demonstrations across the city. The strikes and mass protests paralyzed the local government administration.

The workers were demanding the arrest of the factory owner involved in opening firing on the workers and the full implementation of the agreement. The force of the protest demonstrations and solid strike compelled the authorities to arrest the accused and send him to prison. They were also compelled to announce that the agreement would be fully implemented.

The power loom workers are demanding social security cover in the industry and increase in the wages. The owners are using delaying tactics in the implementation of the agreement. These workers are working in inhuman conditions and suffer grinding poverty. They have to work whole their lives, until they die because there are no pension rights and other support facilities available to them. The average wages is £25 to £35 (pounds per month).

These workers have also been denied their right to organize unions in the work place. In last few years, the workers have started to organize themselves under the banner of workers action committees in the different industrial areas.

Nearly one million workers are employed on more than 250,000 power looms in the city. This strike has had a big impact on the workers in different industries in Faisalabad and surrounding areas.

This strike shows the anger and potential that exists for the working class. Power loom workers have been fighting for their rights from many years but the struggle has intensified in last three years. This is because the workers have become better organized and more confident to challenge the owners and authorities.

The Trade Union Rights Campaign of Pakistan (TURCP) actively intervened in the strike and mass protests. The TURCP produced special leaflets and distributed thousands of them, to the striking workers. TURCP members actively participated in the organization of the strike and demonstrations. As a result of this and other interventions the TURCP is building and strengthening its reputation and authority as a fighting workers organization in this second largest industrial city of Pakistan.

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July 2008