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An overview of workers' struggle.

An Overview of Workers' Struggle

Beginning from the times when trade unions were thought to be the nurseries of revolution until the present scenario of East European States in the backdrop of Perestroika and Glasnost, the international trade union movement traversing through difficult courses in different socio-economic formations all over the globe has by and large come to acquire an institutionalized status. However, it has to be necessarily seen in relation to the varying degree of industrialization and extent of democratic environment obtaining in different countries.

The workers' struggle in the third world countries and their resistance to exploitation through their genuine trade union organizations owes its strength and weaknesses as much to the course of struggle followed by their compatriots in developed economies as of course to the objective conditions in their own home countries. Nevertheless the commonality and objective assertion of the international working class movement despite differing approach, outlook, principles, practices and ideological framework brought about international recognition and acceptance of the legitimacy of its trade union struggle for better terms and conditions of employment.

In our own country where it has been difficult for so long to achieve national consensus even on questions of vital interest, the primary acceptance of trade unions came as a necessary requisite to become a member state of the UNO at the time of the emergence of Pakistan on the world map when there was hardly any significant role and assertion of workers in the new born state. Cut off from the mainstream of trade union movement in prepartition and small number of industrial and commercial concerns, the Port and Dock workers union with few others in up-country and former East Pakistan formed the basis of their conglomerate called APCOL. This Federation of Trade Unions served as a platform for later development and growth of trade unions. However, the leader based trade union practices in the early period under the Government patronage soon gave way to spontaneous formation of unions by the workers and the later period is marked with relatively rapid formation of trade unions and their Federations in the leadership of those splitting away from APCOL.

The independent assertion of workers in this period away from APCOL was met with stiff resistance by the state apparatus. Nevertheless, the new trade union formations did succeed in making a headway in attracting greater membership and advancing their causes. The later development in the country witnessed legislative steps on the part of the Government and the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969 substituting the Trade Union Act, 1926 was a major step forward in this direction.

The industrial development in the sixties witnessed greater trade union activity especially in the textile industry. The urban centers were hit by labour strikes and counter measures of lock-out on the part of the employers. The mushroom growth of trade unions with the interest and support of political parties with varying shades of ideology despite their disunity and in-fight however brought to fore the significance of a national dialogue on workers problem and the need and necessity for a tripartite conference. The persistent struggle and activity by the trade union organisations during those days perforced the employers and the government to review their earlier policies and approach in handling the workers problems. It was during this period that the workers rendered great sacrifices to build up the momentum of their struggle. The hardships suffered by their leaders during this very period serves till now as an inspiration and example in furthering the noble cause of the workers.

The suppression of trade union activity during the Martial Law period brought the workers in defensive position. However, the workers were able to protect and retain the rights conceded to them owing to their struggle except for the restrictions on strikes.

With the advent of democratic era beginning with General Elections in the country, the trade unions stand a good chance to reassert and advance their role towards democratising the national fibre at the grass root. This, however, is beset with great many difficulties. The development of industrial and commercial activity has necessarily to have the willing cooperation and contribution of the working people. The changes in the political scenario and the impact of global power equations together with the pressing economic considerations for a developing country like ours necessitates a review and stock-taking to streamline labour-management relations on progressive and sound footing.

AHMED RAZI SIDDIQUI is a former trade union activist and has led a number of trade unions during 60's and early 70's. Earlier in his student life he was Vice President of Urdu College Students Union and later elected as a member of the Basic Democracy from karachi in 1964. He has attended a number of symposiums and workers' education seminars and was associated with a number of Committees working on different dimensions of industrial relations. He has also earned the credit of various Management courses during his studies in the Institute of Business Administration. He is now associated with the public relations in a public sector oil company.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Industrial Relations in Pakistan '91; interview with Ahmed Razi Siddiqui
Publication:Economic Review
Article Type:interview
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:841
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