This year too, May Day was observed by workers’ trade unions by holding protests for their rights while a large number of labourers remained oblivious to the commemoration. Their struggle for earning a living for their families did not cease on this day too as they were seen working on May 1. The day commemorates the working class’ struggle for its rights and the fight against exploitation at the hands of capitalist employers. Every year the day is celebrated in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for labourers’ rights such as the eight-hour working day. International Workers’ Day was created to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago when a peaceful workers’ rally turned into a violent clash with officers when police opened fire at the protestors. Since then, the day is marked by rallies, seminars and demonstrations across the world. The struggle of the working class for its rights is far from over despite the passage of 136 years since the Chicago events. New kinds of oppressive measures and tactics are being applied by the capitalists to accumulate more and more wealth by squeezing the workers.
Like in many parts of the world, in Pakistan the rights of the working class are violated at the hands of employers who make money at the cost of the workers but are reluctant to give them their due rights even as per the existing labour laws. Trade unions in Pakistan have weakened and shrunk and been made ineffective through various government policies and rules. Our industrial landscape overwhelmingly comprises small and medium-sized units where workers are usually limited in numbers. The government has issued strict policies regarding the formation of trade unions at such workplaces. Another factor that has badly affected the working class is the introduction of outsourcing employment to labour contractors. Organisations no longer directly hire employees. A third party, the labour contractor, inserts himself between employers and employees and is solely responsible for their hiring and maintaining ‘discipline’. These contract-based workers remain deprived of social security rights and can be terminated at any time. Besides this, the country witnessed the worst form of exploitation of its working citizens in the form of bonded labour, child labour and home-based work. Such categories suffer tough working conditions and earn very little. Brick kiln workers especially are subjected to inhuman treatment but the government has failed to protect them.
The struggle must continue for the implementation of labour laws. Trade unions need to unify to regain their lost strength. The government needs to raise minimum wages to a living wage and put in place mechanisms to ensure safety at workplaces, provide social security to all workers, stop privatisation, apply labour laws to the brick kiln and home-based workers and provide proper housing facilities to labourers. Continuous struggle and resistance are the only way to eliminate all forms of injustice and exploitation.