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Unions in Pakistan

By Geoffrey Cook

A Labor Union can be one of the strongest forces for a suitable Muslim democracy. If it fits into its Islamic milieu, it also can become a safeguard for a Muslim society’s tradition of human rights although it must further be integrated into the history of the nation properly.

I have written several articles on Unionization in the Islamic World for these pages previously. Probably the most crucial places now are where Muslim countries are being attacked. The worst are Iraq and Palestine–where worker movements have become integrated into the resistance. Further, the oil sector is ripe and has been unionized in the Middle East and Central Asia. There are other industries unionized in the Islamic lands in the world.

Pakistan has another problem, where currently there is a struggle between the local Coca Cola franchise and their workers. This has come to the point where several international unions have called for a worldwide protest for Coca Cola’s nasty attacks against the trade movement and their unionized workforce in Pakistan.

The history of Pakistan is unique in that workers were encouraged to organize by the British colonial state in the Nineteenth century by the government so that the center (of the) state in New Delhi had recognizable bodies of people with whom to deal when there were legitimate grievances to be addressed.

Earlier in the century, the Industrial Revolution in the ruling country negatively impacted its colonies.

Of course, colonial “India” (which then included Pakistan and Bangladesh) had products dumped into it–excess machine made products from the Metropolis (the capital of the Empire onto the unprotected “Indo-Pakistani” consumers.

One of the most ridiculous examples of this was forcing them to use wool blankets for the under saddles of animals (horses) in a tropical country! Thus, the Indian Subcontinent was a victim of de-industrialization. That is why I am distrustful of globalization and liberalization today. Therefore, I shall discuss a current Labor struggle in the Islamic Republic to illustrate its excessiveness.

The Coca Cola Corporation in Atlanta is the central company in this example; they have just achieved their highest third quarter earnings ever. They own Pakistan’s Coca Cola, Limited, too, (CCBC — Coca Cola Bottling Company) by franchise. Yet the Muslim Pakistani laborers have had to put up with constant assaults upon their union’s basic rights in Karachi and elsewhere and, further, in defiance of a court order.

Union-busting is almost a tradition at Pak Coke: It is a gut reflex. They have been successful in busting workers’ organizations at the company’s plants in Lahore and Gujranwala, too, by dismissing all the leading union officials. Their president, Rahim Yar Khan was also axed, but reinstated after a tenacious three-year battle.

These firings have failed to break the union, but extensive “casualization” (turning permanent employees into part time manual laborers without the benefits or tenure of steady employment) at Coca Cola factories (in the 98 % Islamic Republic) have created a great of personal insecurity amongst and control of their workforce. Another piece of reprehensible policy is to promote manual labor into supervisory categories with the same responsibilities and salaries as before. In other words, “To kick them upstairs!”

“…at CCBL Karachi…the battle [revolves] around the plant: There are 336 regular workers and 256 casual employees…hired…through contract agencies…[that were] previously held by union members…”

“Coca Cola’s…Union opposed…management’s effort to fight the extension of causal contracts…a month ago management sent out 150 pink slips…informing the Karachi workers that their jobs were being outsourced–including the Union President, Vice President and Treasurer!”

A membership meeting rejected the terminations. The administration upped their voluntary retirement pay-offs. “The Consortium informed the Board that it would not accept…redundancy schemes, and that it was prepared to file a contempt petition…for the company’s…disregard of the [previous] court order…to cease pressuring employees to accept…mass terminations.”

Such un-Islamic practices in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are the result of the high degree of military influence on the civilian sector of the States’ fiscal matters.


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