Faisalabad: A Textile City
Faisalabad is a city in Pakistan established in the 1890s and situated in Punjab. It was formerly called Lyallpur in former times with reference to the Lieutenant governor of Punjab, Sir Charles James Lyall. Currently, it’s a hub of numerous industries such as chemical fertiliser, synthetic fibers, medications, medicines, canned goods, ghee (clarified butter), oil, soap, textiles, hosiery, sugar, and flour. However, the textile industry of Faisalabad remains its speciality.
50,000 power looms are already working with an addition of 30,000 in the future. Pakistan is the eighth-largest exporter of textile products in Asia. It is the third-largest consumer of cotton and the fourth-largest producer. Nearly 40% of the workforce is associated with the sector of the textile industry, which accounts for 46% of all manufacturing in the nation.
Faisalabad is one of the major textile cities and houses enormously renowned textile industries such as Pakistan’s leading apparel manufacturer, Chenab Group. This business produces clothing, drapes, duvets, sheets, and pillowcases. Established in 1950, National Silk and Rayon Mills Limited Hall has been successful at exporting the highest-quality embroidery in addition to being able to prove itself sufficient as a manufacturer specialising in B2B textiles.
Interloop Limited is also located in Faisalabad providing merchants with items like socks and leggings. Currently, 25,378 people are employed there. Sales for the business totaled 357.91 million (USD).
Labour Laws in Pakistan
At the time of the Indo-Pak subcontinent’s division, Pakistan adopted the legislation from British India as a model for its labour regulations. However, various factors such as socioeconomic situations, industrial development, population expansion, the labour force, trade union growth, literacy levels, and the government’s commitment to social welfare and development have brought about tremendous changes in the laws.
These variations hugely reflected the transition from martial law to democratic rule in the land of Pakistan. Labour is considered a “concurrent topic” under the Constitution, which means that both the Federal and Provincial Governments are responsible for it. About 37.15 million people make up Pakistan’s entire labour force, of which 47% work in agriculture, 10.50% in manufacturing and mining, and the other 42.50% are employed in a variety of other professions.
LQM at a Glance
Power loom workers established the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in 2004 as a reaction to police brutality that was ordered by powerful localities and business owners. Starting with just sixty employees, the LQM expanded to at least ten more districts including Faisalabad by early 2012. It started to organise workers in a nation where just 4% of Pakistan’s 45 million workers had access to social insurance.
A Quick Recap of Strikes: The Tales of Old Days
Above 250,000 power looms (small weaving equipment) were shut down for 4 days. The massive strike by workers at power looms was the cause of its closure. To show support for the striking employees, thousands of workers marched across the major industrial zones. 50,000 workers declared a strike, and thousands more followed suit.
The strike was initiated when the proprietors of the power loom attacked a non-violent employees’ rally which had been set up to pressurise the owners into carrying out an earlier contract that both the owners and the workers had agreed to.
In Sadhar, an industrial district close to the Faisalabad airport, the employees held nonviolent protest gatherings. The employees made the decision to march towards Aasif Ajmal, a PML-Q MP and the major figurehead of the power loom owners group, at his plant. He opened fire on the employees rather than paying attention to the union officials. Nine employees suffered significant injuries as a result.
As a reaction to this incident, the workers decided to go on an indefinite strike demanding the arrest of factory owners, social security, and an increase in wages.
The Minimum Wage Board had suggested a 17 percent wage increase for workers, and factory owners were made legally compelled to contribute at least 7% of their employees’ income to social security. Despite the board recommendation, this was neatly avoided by the owners.
The workers, who were undoubtedly the ones most impacted by such governmental decisions and oppressive procedures, started to organise in and around Faisalabad under the auspices of the LQM in order to have the suggested 17% pay rise put into effect.
However, an LQM member named Mustansar Randhawa and his younger brother Naseer were slain on July 6, 2010, when ten strongmen who had been recruited by factory owners came into their office. Workers in the neighbouring district of Jhang went on strike, and the LQM called for a general strike in Faisalabad during a public assembly in Jhang in the middle of July.
On 24 July 2010, the Tribune reported that “more than 100,000 power looms in Faisalabad remained shut for a fifth consecutive day.” The administration and police of the Faisalabad area were quickly reorganised by the Punjab provincial government to cope with the striking employees. The police detained the movement’s four leaders and confined them at the police station against their will.
The Protest of August
The government declared on March 26, 2022, that power loom employees would be getting their 1st July salary with an increase of 17%. The proprietors did not boost the pay despite a government-mandated hike and several letters and requests from unions.
On July 26, in response to the requests of the power loom employees, the proprietors of those businesses shut down around 450 machines. This erupted sit-in protests on the call of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in Faisalabad. Baba Latif Ansari, a seasoned trade unionist who is also the LQM Chairman and Punjab President of the Haqooq-e-Khalq party, represented workers and called for a strike to start on August 1.
Several thousand employees and their families engaged in a two-week-long sit-in protest on Jhang Road, blocking access to Faisalabad International Airport. The workers said that the new minimum salaries set by the provincial government had not been implemented by the Punjab Labour Department.
The employees at the sit-in location also spoke out against Shehbaz Sharif-led government’s recent increases in energy and power tariffs, which have made it more challenging for them to provide for their families’ basic requirements. In Pakistan, inflation reached 37.67% in the month of August.
Furthermore, the terrible working conditions in Faisalabad were a major focus of the employees’ demonstrations, which also called for the Environment Department to take action and enact the required legislation. The employees emphasised that hundreds of workers and their children had developed asthma and other lung conditions as a result of the loom owners’ usage of used polyester, acrylic, and woollen clothing as fuel for the boilers.
Dr. Ammar Ali Jan, a historian, activist, and the leader of the Haqooq-e-Khalq Party (HKP), which actively supports the workers in Faisalabad, spoke with Peoples Dispatch. He emphasised the crucial part the Labour Qaumi Movement played in the early 2000s in uniting and organising the workers from the textile industry in Faisalabad. He added, “This is the best resistance of the current labour movement, in which workers are declaring that this time the sacrifice for the economy will be made by the elite, not the poor.”
The new labour movement in Punjab, which went by the name of LQM, came as a breath of fresh air for the garment workers in the province who had previously been dispersed across the small power loom units. The sit-in Protest advanced sporadically over two weeks as the Chamber of Commerce and the power loom industry group changed their positions.
An agreement was achieved between the district government and the power loom proprietors after multiple rounds of discussions and concessions, as well as between them and the leaders of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM). Approximately all of the nearly 300,000 workers’ demands have been satisfied. A 15% pay raise for employees, social security guarantees, and improvements to the workplace environment are a few of them.
Faisalabad serves as an illustration of how the urban industrial working class is organised. A common theme running through the mobilizations is also opposition to expanding neoliberalism under the aegis of the post-colonial state (and its imperial guarantors). The state and capital are working together to squeeze the industrial working classes.
However, they stand for (arguably) effective opposition to the advancing, interconnected forces of neoliberal capitalism and a repressive state apparatus that is vehemently opposed to any challenge to its dominance of politics, culture, and thought.
Thus, we may begin to shift away from glasses skewed by global regimes of power by identifying such developments and carefully studying them with an eye on their appropriate historical circumstances.
By doing this, we come to the realisation that viewing a nation and its people through the prism of dichotomies fostered by the War on Terror discourse and rooted in antiquated Orientalism takes us down a dark path of one-dimensional thinking and prevents us from comprehending the actual processes of change, contestation, and resistance taking place in societies like Pakistan.
Problems with historiography and representation with reference to the nations and communities of the global South are not new, and these types of knowledge tropes can only be contested by making a purposeful shift towards a discourse that is focused on the people and their daily struggles.
The issue, as always, is to perceive history as actively formed by masses of nameless, faceless individuals in the battle over their own bodies, environs, and material situations rather than as the deterministic flow of superior ideas and top-down processes of change.
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