By Shehzad Arshad
SINCE SHAHBAZ Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League replaced Imran Khan as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the political crisis wracking the country has deepened. Nevertheless Sharif’s new government seems to have won the struggle within the ruling class for now and is looking relatively stable.
Unsurprisingly its first attack is on the workers and the urban and rural poor—by increasing the price of petrol. The government has also slashed the budget for higher education by 50%. However, the economic, political and social crisis in Pakistan is so severe that no government will be able to impose the destructive policies demanded by the International Monetary Fund without a fight.
Pakistan’s current account deficit has widened to a cumulative $13.8bn since July 2021 (compared to a deficit of $543 million for the previous year). The trade deficit widened by an alarming 58 per cent, reaching an all-time high of $43.3bn by May.
The extent of the crisis means that the IMF programme will be revived and further loans will have to be obtained from other institutions and countries in addition. While Pakistan has escaped falling into the abyss of bankruptcy, economic recovery will be difficult, if not impossible for a long time.
Although the precise conditions are currently being negotiated, the IMF is likely to make drastic demands in return for a rescue package. Further price rises for basic goods and cuts to public services are likely. A massive increase of approximately 50% in the electricity base tariff is expected.
Furthermore, the finance ministry is promising the privatisation of power companies and other institutions, adding to the inflationary punishment imposed on working people and the urban poor.
Inflation has already risen to 21.3% in June, and is expected to rise further.
In exchange for financial aid, the IMF will impose austerity and ‘adjustment measures’: cuts, job losses and outright misery for millions. It will be difficult for much of the working class to eat twice a day. This government has decided to bury the workers and the poor alive in the name of economic recovery.
What is needed now is for organisations of the working class, the peasantry, the poor and all the oppressed to unite around a programme of action. The trade unions and left wing political organisations need to wage a common struggle against the attacks and for an alternative solution to the current crisis.
A revolutionary response
The League for the Fifth International proposes a series of key demands to solve the crisis in the interest of the working class.
The minimum wage should be raised to allow a decent quality of life for workers. Workers’ wages should be linked to a worker-controlled cost of living index – for every 1% increase in inflation, there should be a 1% increase in wages.
The education and healthcare budgets should be increased by imposing a wealth tax on the capitalists, big landowners, multinational companies and the rich. There must be an end to all tax exemptions and subsidies for the capitalist and landowning classes.
Massive funding should be directed towards increasing the productivity of agriculture, especially to meet the consumption needs of the masses. The land should be expropriated from the big landowners and handed over to the peasantry and rural labourers. Price control committees, linking the rural producers to the workers in the cities, should be established.
The budget for development projects must be increased on a large scale so that social facilities and free homes for the working class as well as the rural and urban poor may be constructed. Companies that produce electricity must be placed under the democratic control of the working class.
State-run institutions should also be taken out of the hands of private corporations and run under the democratic workers’ control. Instead of cutting jobs, working hours should be reduced to prevent unemployment and the work shared out with no loss of pay.
All this will require rejection of the IMF programme, including refusal to repay the debts of global economic institutions. However, this can never be undertaken by a government committed to capitalism.
In order to impose such a demand on the bosses, the currently fragmented trade unions and weak left wing organisations will not be enough. We need a government based on the workers’ own democratic organs of self-administration to deal with the existing disastrous situation and defend the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.
We need to campaign for councils of action based on delegates elected by mass meetings in all workplaces, in working class estates, in both town and countryside. Such councils of action could organise the masses of Pakistan. They could rally the workers and poor to mass demonstrations, occupations and strike action to repeal the IMF programme and to make the rich pay for the crisis.
These councils could also control the implementation of demands like a minimum wage and ensure the accurate indexation of wages and social benefits or pensions to the increase in the prices of basic goods and services.
Those who see the need for a revolutionary strategy, whether in left parties or trade unions, need to organise themselves to fight for it in all working class organisations, as well as among the most vulnerable layers of society: women, youth and the oppressed nationalities.
We need to unite to discuss the political basis for a revolutionary working class party and a programme of action which links the struggle against the IMF and Western imperialism with the struggle for a working class revolution in Pakistan and the entire region.