Losing lives to form trade unions
On 6th July while Mustansar was listening to a worker who had not been
paid his wages by a textile boss, an unknown person with a Kalashnikov
entered the front room and fired. Mustansar tried to save his life by
running to the next room but 10 people were determined to finish him off
met Mustansar Rindhawa (32) briefly on 19th June 2010 in Faisalabad,
less than a month before his murder. He was one of 30 participants in
trade union leadership training at the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM)
office. The LQM is a community-based labor organization established in
2004. It has become the main labor organization in Faisalabad, and is
now spreading to other cities.
I had been invited by the Labour Education Foundation, the organization
conducting the program, to speak on "globalization and its impact on the
working class in Pakistan." Mustansar Rindhawa and Hamid Shah were
introduced to me as two newcomers to the movement. Both have been active
in small-scale industrial zone of Faisalabad.
Latif Bawa, the LQM vice president told me, "They are doing an excellent
job. They have set up an office on Sargodha Road and have put up over
5000 posters asking workers to contact the office about any labor issue
and raise the demand that there should be a social security card for
every worker." Latif added that Mustansar was to be "our next candidate
for Punjab Assembly constituency 64. We are expecting another MPA to be
disqualified because he has also used a fake graduation degree; the case
is pending in the courts."
Mustansar told me that he had read a lot about me and heard me speak at
public meetings during Mian Abdul Qayum's recent campaign: "I want you
to come for my election campaign. You will see the response of the
working class and peasantry in my constituency. I have a good reputation
and will fight courageously." Mustansar was very enthusiastic about the
workshop and was eager to participate in future training. We need
well-educated worker activists but there are too few opportunities to
attend such workshops. At his request we took a group photo.
Later, while driving to Sarghoda Road, I saw the Labour Party Pakistan
election symbol of an Apple on the back of a car just ahead. As I passed
the car, I looked over and saw it was Mustansar driving with Mian Abdul
Qayum. We exchanged smiles -- and that was the last time I saw Mustansar.
On 6th July 2010, while Mustansar was listening to a worker who had not
been paid his wages by a textile boss, an unknown person with a
Kalashnikov entered the front room and fired, hitting Mustansar's
younger brother, Naseer. Mustansar tried to save his life by running to
the next room and locking the door but some 10 people were determined to
finish him off. They broke the glass, the assailant fired at him and
killed him on the spot. The workers sitting next to him at the beginning
of the attack said "It all happened within a minute."
It was one pm and the news spread like wildfire. Mustansar had become a
popular leader of the LQM. He was not a factory worker but a community
leader in his village, which was adjacent to Faisalabad. On the eve of
the LPP's fifth congress, he attended the LQM gathering at the famous
Dhobi Ghat ground and decided to become part of the movement.
Mustansar was asked to start work in an area of Faisalabad dominated by
gangsters. There was no union and the LQM did not have much influence in
the area. The bosses used gangsters to terrorize the workers, who were
very poorly paid. Some gangsters even terrorized the owners of small
factories and power looms to demand kickback money.
After meeting the leaders of LQM, Mustansar prioritized building trade
unions. While showing Rana Tahir, the president of LQM Faisalabad, the
office he rented for trade union work, he remarked that "You do not have
to worry about the gangsters, we will deal with them. We are just asking
workers to form unions and join the LQM. I am not afraid of any bloody
bugger." And he was not. Despite all the threats, he posted flyers all
over and distributed thousands of leaflet asking workers to come to the
newly established office of NTUF and LQM. Within three months of joining
the movement, he was elected president of the National Trade Union
Federation Faisalabad division.
When I attended his funeral and the protest demonstration I noticed
these flyers everywhere. In fact it was the only poster to be found in
his village. At a time when religious posters dominate walls all over
Pakistan, a poster inviting workers to join a union was very refreshing
Ashfaq Butt, one of main LQM leaders in Faisalabad, told me yesterday
that Mustansar was with him the day before. He had called to say he
needed help in processing several labor cases at the Labour Department.
The two spent two hours dealing with several cases in which workers had
not been paid minimum wages. Mustansar successfully argued the case of
five workers whose employment had been terminated. Although the power
loom boss accused them of taking advance money and not returning it, he
agreed to take the five back.
After hearing the news of Mustansar's death as well as the death of his
younger brother, thousands of workers left their factories. Almost all
factories in Faisalabad closed and two days later were still not open.
Mustansar was loved by many.
He was the rising star of the new leadership of LQM influence is
spreading to other cities. Jhang, adjacent district saw some of largest
workers rally yesterday in protest against the killing.
Workers gathered in Pansra, 20 kilometers from the Faisalabad city
center, and started a solidarity action. It was mainly young power loom
workers who marched. When they arrived in Faisalabad more than four
hours later they were over 5000. With wooden sticks in their hands they
asked shopkeepers to close their business in memory of the two labor
leaders. Hardly anyone resisted. The famous eight bazaars of Faisalabad
around Ghanta Ghar were also closed for a while.
Workers wanted to settle scores with those who argued against closing
the shops. Then the LQM leadership intervened to keep the emotion under
control. When the driver of one of the public vans abused the marcher's
three public vans had their glass smashed. The police were silent
spectators yesterday--they realized any attempt to intervene would only
aggravate the situation.
The leadership of LQM gave the police a 24-hour deadline to arrest the
10 people mentioned in the first investigation report (FIR). The police
chief assured us he would do his best to arrest the murderers.
We decided to keep the office open where the two lost their lives in the
struggle to build a labor movement. Anwar Awan from the area has taken
the responsibility to mobilize workers to staff the office's security.
While having some rest after a whole day of activities at Anwar's home
in the afternoon, we learned that Anwar had once been one of the main
leaders of Anjman Sapa Sahaba, a fanatical religious group banned by the
government. He left them two years back to join LQM. In his late 20s,
Anwar gave me a glimpse of the days to come. People from all different
traditions and backgrounds will join us as we become a mass force. In
this way Mustansar will remain alive in the shape of Anwar Awan, Hamid
Shah and other comrades.
Anwar told us that the gangsters cannot defeat us. Certainly we have
come out in the thousands today and both gangsters and working people
must have realized the power of the working class. We will not sit idle
but will defend ourselves if attacked.