By Khaliq Ahmad, Revolutionary Socialist Movement (Pakistan), section of the League for the Fifth International
IN ORDER to meet the IMF’s conditions for its $3billion loan, the Pakistani government is loading all the costs onto the working class and the urban and rural poor. Consumer price inflation in Pakistan is currently at the highest level in history. It reached 35.4 % in March, according to official data, driven mainly by skyrocketing costs of food, electricity and transport.
Wage increases in the recent budget are less than the current level of inflation, but employers in the private sector even refuse to pay these increases and workers have to wage an organised struggle every year to make up at least some of their losses. The IMF Agreement, reached in July, will make matters worse for the working class, peasants and the poor by demanding cuts in subsidies for basic consumer goods, further privatisation and cuts in public spending.
In response to this, the Labour Qaumi Movement, LQM, started a campaign at the beginning of June regarding the wage increase and the problems faced at the workplace. In the weeks running up to a labour rights conference on June 18, 10 rallies and countless street corner meetings were held in working class districts and workplaces.
In this campaign, the LQM addressed and organised tens of thousands of workers, including a large number of home-based women workers. In the rallies and street meetings, they talked about the problems facing millions. They invited them to join the LQM, to wage a joint struggle against inflation, cuts and the IMF package and explained why the working class does not only need trade unions and local committees of action, but that it needs a party of its own as well. A party which intervenes in the daily struggles, uses elections to raise the independent voice of the working class and links its whole activity to the struggle against the system. The response of the workers has been quite positive regarding both the LQM and its initiative, started in 2022, to build a working class party.
This campaign is a significant development because, instead of being limited to a campaign for raising wages, it also brings to the fore the question of working class politics and party that has been facing the working class for decades. Because there has been no significant political organisation rooted in the working class, it and its potential allies – small peasants, the urban and rural poor, students and the oppressed – have been politically dominated by the various parties of the ruling class or the petit-bourgeoisie. This political weakness becomes particularly acute in periods of crisis and intense class struggle.
The LQM has started to build such a party and it is basing its campaign on a programme of working class demands. This includes not only a struggle against the current economic crisis, and the demands of the IMF, but also raises the demands of oppressed nations, women and students who are also severely affected by this. It also highlights that, at the same time, the obscene wealth of the Pakistani ruling class is increasing.
According to the National Human Development Report, the government is giving out $17.4 billion per year to the elite. This includes not only, not even mainly, bonuses and incomes for high ranking officials, but also benefits for the land owning elite and subsidies for export traders and industrialists, all in the name of the national economy. At the same time, the government is putting all the pressure and burdens on the common people, for whom it is already difficult to eat two meals a day.
Thousands of workers from all over Faisalabad participated in the conference of June 18 under the auspices of the LQM, raising red flags on huge marches and rallies. A large number of women workers also participated in this conference. Apart from the workers from Faisalabad, representatives of various trade unions, left organisations and student organisations from across the country also participated.
Speakers at the conference made it clear that the cause of the existing crisis and problems are the priorities of the ruling class. They use their state for their capitalist system, offering no solution for the workers and the poor. In these circumstances, the LQM is the only party that consists of working class people, which is rooted amongst the working class and poor. They are the backbone of the struggle to end this system of exploitation and coercion. But they need to be connected, organised and politically unified to lead the struggle of the working class.
The struggle of the LQM, speakers declared, is against the capitalist system and its key fighting goal it to create a working class government. That is why the LQM is not aligned with any capitalist party, it is why it is organisationally and politically independent and why it is a party of class struggle. As one speaker continued: “We have no hope from this parliament. The purpose of participating in the election will be to increase the workers’ struggles, bring labour issues to the parliament and connect the struggle outside the parliament with it and struggle for the power of the working class.”
The LQM is different from other parties because it is based on the working class and the majority of its leadership consists of workers. They are proudly saying that this is their party and calling on others to join it and organise a common struggle against the oppression and exploitation of this system.
In the labour rights conference, it was agreed to organise the struggle around the following demands at the national level and to call on all other unions and working class organisations to join in a common struggle against prices rises, the IMF package and for the basic needs of the working class.
Such demands can only be implemented by mass struggle of the whole labour movement via mass strikes, occupations and mass rallies. This needs to be built not just by agreement between leaders of organisations, but from below by mass rallies like we saw in Faisalabad, by the election of committees of action in the work places, in the working class districts and in the countryside, linking them up to a national council to coordinate the struggle. Such a mass movement must be democratic, but also effective, agreeing on a plan of action for the movement. And it must also create organs of self-defence to protect itself against provocations.
Clearly, if such a movement is established and if it were to win demands, this would not be the end of the struggle. The ruling class and its state would look for all means to attack even small gains. So the struggle needs to be made permanent, leading to a revolutionary struggle for power, for the creation of a workers’ and small peasant government based on workers’ councils and a militia – a government which would not only put an end to IMF dictates and neoliberal policies, but also to the capitalist system, establishing a democratic plan of production and distribution. And such a government must not confine itself to Pakistan, it can and must become a rallying point for the spreading of the revolution to the whole region, leading to a South Asia Federation of Workers’ States.