After a change of design, the Malir Expressway should be shifted to the left bank of the Malir River in order to save agricultural land that will otherwise be affected by the construction of the highway.
This demand was made on Sunday at a labour conference organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP) at the Arts Council of Pakistan. The event, which was titled ‘Fanoos Gujjar Labour Conference’ also highlighted the plight of the families affected by the anti-encroachment operations along the Orangi and Gujjar nullahs as well as those affected by the Karachi Circular Railway project.
The moot demanded that the labour force belonging to those affected areas be paid a minimum salary equal to the price of 300 litres of petrol. AWP President Yousuf Mustikhan, Senior Vice President Advocate Akhtar Hussain, Federal Organising Secretary Javed Akhtar, Federal Labour Secretary Dilawar Abbas, Federal Youth Secretary Usman Gujjar, Karachi President Shafi Shaikh, and General Secretary and Karachi Bachao Tehreek Convener Khurram Ali addressed the conference along with residents affected by anti-encroachment operation, and leaders of the K-Electric Progressive Labour Union, Sui Southern Gas Company Jafakash Union, Sindh Sujaagi Mazdoor Federation and Lyari Awami Mahaz.
After the conference, participants held a march from the Arts Council till the Karachi Press Club to protest against rising inflation. The protesters condemned what they called anti-working class economic policies of the current as well as previous governments.
Mustikhan said Pakistan was under the complete grip of American imperialism and institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had set in motion a never-ending cycle of circular debt.
Advocate Hussain said the political parties claiming to ‘represent’ the Pakistani people in Parliament themselves relied on local feudal lords and political leaders dependent on international capital. “The maximum they can do to challenge the US’s hegemony is chanting hollow slogans inside the legislature and outside it,” he said, adding that such leaders would never want Pakistan to be free of the American imperialist policies or the IMF.
To explain his point, he remarked that the biggest example of such hollow sloganeering was of former prime minister Imran Khan who, on the one hand, was raising hue and cry against a ‘US-led’ conspiracy but on the other hand, he did not object to handing over our central bank to the IMF.
Karachi Bachao Tehreek’s Ali stated that supporting political parties led by feudal lords and capitalists would be tantamount to supporting one’s own exploitation. “If Pakistan wishes to seek freedom from imperialist policies, circular debt and inflation, it will have to follow China’s model of a peoples’ revolution that was led by the middle class under the leadership of workers, peasants and labourers.”
Akhtar said that by withdrawing subsidies, the state had shifted the burden of the economic crisis onto the worker and middle classes. All of this was done despite knowing that the subsidies could have been continued by imposing a wealth tax on the rich, he added.
Abbas demanded that the average pay of one labourer be made equal to the price of 300 litres of petrol. He warned of serious consequences if people were not provided immediate relief. Gujjar Nullah Affectees Committee Chairman Nisar Ahmad highlighted how various projects in the name of development were essentially launched to help the country’s construction mafia.
The head of the Orangi Nullah Affectees Committee, Arslan Ghani, lamented that the working class affected residents were being made to run from pillar to post on matters concerning rehabilitation.
K-Electric Progressive Labour Union Chairman Babar Sohail said that privatisation had not only ruined the country’s labour class but also weakened industries that produced exports, naturally pushing the country’s economy towards a deficit.
A leader of the Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) Jafakash Union said the situation of the country’s labour class could be gauged from the fact that even workers of a semi-government company such as the SSGC were not being paid a minimum wage of Rs25,000, while there were employees who had been working there under the contract system for as long as 20 years.
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