November 1 will mark the second anniversary of the jailing of six rank and file workers’ leaders in Pakistan. Their case has become notorious as a particularly blatant example of how the different arms of the state collaborate in the suppression of the working-class movement.
The six, Akbar Ali Kamboh, Babar Shafiq Randhawa, Fazal Elahi, Rana Riaz Ahmed, Muhammad Aslam Malik, and Asghar Ali Ansari, were leaders of the power loom workers’ strike, organized by the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in Faisalabad, a center of the textile industry, in July 2010. The strike had been called to demand the implementation of a 17% increase in the minimum wage that had not been implemented by the employers.
The Faisalabad Six
On July 1, as workers streamed out of the Fazal Weaving factory to join the strike, shots were fired at them from inside the building. Some workers braved the fire, returned to the factory and disarmed the gangsters hired by the management in an attempt to intimidate the strikers.
Later, at the main strike rally in the city, demonstrators were again attacked, from one side by gangs armed with bricks and stones and from the other by the police firing tear gas. While this was going on, one room in the strike bound factory was set ablaze, unknown to any of the strikers. This was later brought as evidence of the violence of the strikers who had supposedly “attempted to burn down the factory.”
It was only three days later that a formal complaint was made to the police, naming 14 leaders of the LQM, including the six local strike leaders, as well as 150 unnamed “accomplices.” Despite the circumstances, the accused were later charged under the provisions of the “Anti-Terrorism” laws. Three months later, when they were brought to trial, accused of the attempted murder of the four brothers who owned the factory, the charges referred to gunfire, although this had not previously been mentioned.
In keeping with the clearly rigged nature of the whole prosecution, the presiding judge, Mian Muhammad Anwar Nazir, found the defendants guilty on each of the charges and handed down sentences totaling 490 years. In practice, because the sentences will run concurrently, each of the six faces approximately 10 years in prison.
This shameless act of state repression against workers doing no more than claiming their legal rights has profound implications. By revealing the class bias of the police, the courts, and the political establishment, who must have sanctioned the use of anti-terror legislation, it makes clear the challenges facing the workers’ movement. Any attempt to defend workers’ interests, even to enforce existing regulations, will be met by the full force of the state.
The LQM is a genuinely mass-based movement, organizing some 100,000 power loom workers, and textiles are Pakistan’s biggest single export. This is a section of the working class that could play a leading role in building a new workers’ movement in the country. As such, it is an arena that the newly-formed Awami Workers’ Party (AWP) should prioritize for intervention. As well as fighting for rank and file democratic control of the LQM as an organization, and of all its activities, it needs to explain the need for a political leadership based on a program that combines defense of existing rights and the fight for immediate needs with a strategic commitment to the overthrow of capitalism and the state that defends it.
Outside of the LQM itself, the AWP should also prioritize solidarity with the Faisalabad Six. This must combine fund raising to support the workers’ families and the legal defense campaign with mass mobilizations and solidarity action to force their release. An effective solidarity campaign would also build confidence among other sections of workers and take forward the struggle to build a new workers’ movement that can give leadership in the continuing social crisis that is engulfing Pakistan.