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May Day rallies banned in Pakistan

By: Farooq Tariq
General secretary
Labour Party Pakistan

Never before in the history of Pakistan any government, civil or military, has banned the traditional rallies of the workers on the eve of May Day. The General Musharaf military regime has now formally warned the workers to restrain from taking our rallies on the streets. "If workers want to remember the martyrs of 1886 uprising of Chicago, they should hold the meetings indoor", general (retired) Moeen Haider, federal interior minister told the reporters on 28th April. "No one including the workers will be allowed to bring out the rallies on May Day" the interior minister made the warning.

This is one of the series of the warnings given by several government officials in various parts of Pakistan. The main aim of this suppressive measure is to stop the Alliance For Restoration Of Democracy (ARD) planned rally in Karachi on May Day. The ARD leadership in its Peshawar meeting on 8th April decided to hold a public meeting on May Day at the historic Nishter Park of Karachi in solidarity with the workers.

This was to protest the present military regime policies of restructuring, down seizing and privatization to meet the conditionality of IMF and World Bank. Both these imperialist institutions have hailed the present economic policies of the military regime, which is resulting a massive wave of price-hike and unemployment. Explaining the present government priorities to a three days Pakistan Agric-Business Conference held on 28th April at Islamabad, General Pervaiz Musharaf said that "those not required will be relieved from their jobs." He was referring to the 131,000 public employees who would loose their jobs if the present military regime of restructuring plans go ahead and implemented. Over 2000 political activists of ARD including Shoaib Bhatti have been arrested during the last week of April in a bid to foil the ARD planned rally in Karachi. Most of the main ARD leadership entry into the Sind province in banned by the regime. Those who were able to arrive at Karachi airport were sent back or arrested.

Why is the present military regime so worried by these rallies planned by ARD? Earlier on 23rd March, a similar rally of ARD was banned and several thousands were detained for few days to suppress the rally. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Jammat-I-Isalmi, the main religious fundamentalist party in Pakistan, while condemning the arrest on 28th April, declared that these arrests are part of the strategy of the military regime to make the ARD leadership popular once again. He said, "Let the ARD leadership be allowed the rallies, not more than few hundreds will turn up". Is that the case?

This is none sense to say that military regime in collaboration with the ARD leadership is making these arrests. The arguments that not many will come to the rallies are contrary to the present consciousness of the masses in Pakistan. It is exactly the consciousness of the masses that has compelled the regime to take U turn from their initial liberal attitude towards the political parties and labor organizations.

It is very clear that military regime has become highly unpopular because of its economic policies. More taxes, reduction of the public sector, increasing the prices of oil, electricity, gas, transport and water, privatization, liberalization of economy have been the main features of the economic priorities of the military regime. During the last one and half year of it power period, the regime has tried to fulfilled all the conditionality of IMF and World Bank. By doing so, they had to face the strikes of the traders and this year the extreme heatedness of the public and private sector employees. This tremendous anger of the workers would have reflected in the Maydays rallies and it is this reason that military regime has banned the May Day rallies. Unlike the past, the government cannot claim that single trade union is supporting the present military regime.

The trade union leaders and activists may not be able to defy the ban in the militant manner. This is mainly due to the severe economic restraints that workers will face in that case. Many trade union leaders and activists have lost their jobs or have been transferred to far off place because of the union activities. The railway trade union leaders and workers have been the main victims of the railway administration because of their trade union activities. Over a 100 activists were transferred to far off places as part of the victimization by the regime. Mutihida Rail Mazdoor Itehad (United Rail Workers Alliance) is holding a May Day rally at Engine Shed despite a ban on the rallies. The recently formed Alliance leaders were immediately transferred in the second week of April, after they addressed a press conference to expose the corruption of the Railway minister who is an ex military general. Two of the main leaders of this Alliance Saifu Rehman and Gul Deraz have not been paid wages for the last 10 months despite a court order in their favor.

Even during the military regime of General Zia, the May Day rallies were not banned. But the present military regime has shown no respect for this International Day of the workers.

It is ironic that military regime has planned a workers week from 1st of May to 7th of May. This mean the General Musharaf will address the recently elected labor councilors of the local bodies and will boast that he was the first on to increase the labor seats in the local bodies. But he is also the first one to ban the May Day rallies. The labor counselors are ordered to arrive in Islamabad. The labor counselor may arrive in Islamabad but in their hearts and mind, the heatedness towards the regime will be very clear to the masses.

Labour Party Pakistan has condemned the banning of the regime and declared to defy the ban in Karachi where the ARD leadership has announced the rally. The present regime will not go very far on the road it has adopted. Many government internationally, who have toed the anti workers policies of the international financial institutions met with great anger of the masses and had to leave in disgrace. The present regime may be able to please the IMF and World Bank but it has displeases the masses to a level not seen in the near past

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