Stop the Military Operation in Fata

June 22, 2014 § 83 Comments

***Please endorse in the comments section***

[For further analysis on the military assault, see here.]

We, the undersigned, demand an immediate end to the ongoing military operation in the North Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). We expect this, the sixth military operation in FATA within the last decade, to follow the pattern set by the previous “decisive” operations which resulted in death and suffering for the people of FATA.

The current operation in North Waziristan is nothing but a sham that will only increase the suffering of the people of FATA. Those declaring “full support” for the military operation choose to ignore history (and the present) at their own peril.

While we condemn religious extremism and militancy in the strongest termswe do not believe that the problem of religious militancy in Pakistan can be addressed through military means nor by an exclusive focus on FATA as a harbour of militancy. Our demands are as follows:

1. An immediate and unconditional halt to the ongoing military operation in NorthWaziristan and other parts of Tribal Areas.

2. We demand that the people of FATA have the right to decide what to do with the problem of militancy in their area. This process must include working-classes, peasants, women and minorities in FATA – with complete accountability, full access to independent media and without any coercion from the security establishment or militant groups.

3. Public disclosure of the names, details and any alleged militant linkages of those killed in the ongoing operation.

4. Immediate abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and steps to integrate FATA into mainstream Pakistan by providing guarantee of fundamental rights including rights of political association and the national penal code.

5. Formulating and implementing a pro-people development policy to reverse the systematic underdevelopment of the FATA region.

6. Ending the systematic discrimination against internally displaced persons (IDPs) from FATA, who have been denied entry into other provinces.

7. The security establishment must end its policy of supporting militant groups for strategic ends, both within Pakistan and in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan.

8. Cutting off sources of funding and support for militant groups operating in the country, for example from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

9. Canceling all defense and unequal economic agreements with imperialist powers (such as the US) and institutions (such as the World Bank and IMF), which perpetuate uneven development and exploitation of peripheral regions like FATA.

What Pakistan needs is a new social contract based on the radical equality of all its peoples. The time is for a peoples’ movement against the Pakistani military and ruling classes’ continuing relationship with militant groups and US-Saudi imperialism. Progressives in Pakistan must remain committed to building a pro-people, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political alternative without blinding themselves by expressing support for short term measures that only serve to intensify the contradictions bred by almost 70 years of subservience to imperialism and exploitative capitalist development.

Standing with the peoples of Pakistan means saying no to the wars waged against them by American imperialism, the Pakistani military and its proxies. Standing with the peoples of Pakistan means holding this military accountable for its criminal acts, not cheering it on.



1 M. Wasim Khan (Advocate Malir Bar, Karachi)
2 Sarah Suhail (Advocate, Lahore and PhD Student)
3 Noor Mir (Anti-War Activist, Washington DC)
4 Ehsan Rafi (Artist)
5 Ehsan Ali (Awami Action Committee Convenor and Lawyer, Gilgit Baltistan)
6 Ashraf Kakar (Awami Workers Party and Faculty, Quaid-e-Azam University)
7 Fahad Rizwan (Awami Workers Party and NSF)
8 Sonia Qadir (Awami Workers Party and Student, New School for Social Research)
9 Mahvish Ahmad (Awami Workers Party Islamabad/Rawalpindi)
10 Ammar Rashid (Awami Workers Party Islamabad/Rawalpindi)
11 Sher Ali Khan (Awami Workers Party Lahore, Dep Gen Sec)
12 Sara Kazmi (Awami Workers Party, Lahore)
13 Khalid Mehmood (Awami Workers Party, Vice President Punjab)
14 Hassan Mujtaba (Awami Workers Party)
15 Husna Ali (Awami Workers Party)
16 Aima Khosa (Awami Workers Party)
17 Ateeb Ahmad (Awami Workers Party)
18 Hashim Bin Rashid (Awami Workers Party)
19 Umair Javed (Awami Workers Party)
20 Shahzad Arshad (Awami Workers Party)
21 Ammar Ali Jan (Awami Workers Party)
22 Feroz Imran (Awami Workers Party)
23 Hasan Raza (Awami Workers Party)
24 Umair Rasheed (Awami Workers Party)
25 Muhammad Ali Jan (Awami Workers Party)
26 Maham Hameed (Awami Workers Party)
27 Sohaib Bodla (Awami Workers Party)
28 Fakhra Hassan (Awami Workers Party)
29 Akhtar Bashir (Awami Workers Party)
30 Rizwan Khaliq (Awami Workers Party)
31 Qasim Baloch (Baloch Human Rights Activist)
32 Mir Muhammad Ali Talpur (Baloch Rights Activist)
33 S Adeel ur Rahman (Business Consultant, Karachi)
34 Campaign Against Drones in Pakistan (CADiP)
35 Arsalan Samdani (CADiP)
36 Urooj Shahzadi (CADiP)
37 Zarak Khan Kasi (Chair, Iranian Studies, SOAS)
38 Kamran Vardag (Chairman, Green Peoples Movement, Islamabad)
39 Nasha Ali Shah (Concerned Citizen and Social Activist)
40 Meera Ghani (Concerned Citizen)
41 Alia Ali (Concerned Citizen)
42 Nabeel Shakeel Ahmed (Concerned Citizen)
43 Ali Ally (Concerned Citizen)
44 Amna Masood Janjua (Defense of Human Rights [DHR] Pakistan)
45 Waqas Ali Zaheer (Democratic Students Federation DSF)
46 Ali Arqam (Freelance Journalist, Karachi)
47 Osama Motiwala (Freelance Journalist)
48 Haider Ali (FSc Student, Faisalabad)
49 Adnan Atta (Geologist, University of the Punjab)
50 Asha Amirali (Graduate Student, University of Oxford)
51 Sobia Kapadia (Human Right Activist and Architect, Karachi)
52 Isfundiar Kasuri (Imran Khan Foundation)
53 Tahir Jan (Inqilabi Socialist Hunza)
54 Riaz Shah (Inqlabi Sociaists, Central Organiser and Doctor, Karachi)
55 Rizwan Atta (Inqlabi Socialists & Journalist, Lahore)
56 Naghma Shaikh (Inqlabi Socialists and Feminist Activist, Karachi)
57 Ali Sajjad (Inqlabi Socialists and Teacher, Faisalabad)
58 Rehana Channer (Inqlabi Socialists and Teacher/Poet, Karachi)
59 Sartaj Khan (Inqlabi Socialists IS Pakistan, Editor “Socialist” Urdu)
60 Riaz Ahmed (Inqlabi Socialists Pakistan and Teacher, Karachi University)
61 Asim Jaan (Inqlabi Socialists Pakistan)
62 Adnan Ata (Inqlabi Socialists Pakistan)
63 Inqlabi Socialists Pakistan (Inqlabi Socialists Pakistan)
64 Amal Rana (Interfaith Institute for Justice, Peace and Social Movements, Vancouver)
65 Irfan Dawar (Internee, FATA Development Authority)
66 Ali Yawar (Irtiqa Institute, Karachi)
67 Naveed Iqbal (Islamabad)
68 Chris Hedges (Journalist and Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner 2002)
69 Miranda Husain (Journalist, Lahore)
70 Rifatullah (Journalist, Peshawar)
71 Mustafa Bhutto (Karachi)
72 Sophia Hasnain (Karachi)
73 Reem Khalid (Karachi)
74 Nofil Naqvi (Karachi)
75 Kashaf Asim (Karachi)
76 Roza Khan (Khaton Pakistan College Student, Karachi)
77 Dr Alamgir Khan Shinwari (Khyber Agency, FATA)
78 Abdul Haleem (Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
79 Amanullah Jiffrey Kariapper (Lahore)
80 Zoya Rehman (Lahore)
81 Habeel Khalid (Lahore)
82 Shaffaf Shahid Latif (Lahore)
83 Abira Ashfaq (Lawyer, Pakistan)
84 Huma Dar (Lecturer, University of California – Berkeley)
85 Aneeqa Khan (LUMS & SOAS)
86 Talha Naushad (LUMS)
87 Taimoor Shahid (LUMS)
88 Adnan Khan (Malakand, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
89 Muhammad Azam Khan (Malakand, KP and Islamabad)
90 Arfan Chaudhry (National Students Federation NSF Punjab, President)
91 Khurram Ali (National Students Federation NSF, Central Organiser)
92 Nasir Mansoor (National Trade Union Federation NTUF, Dep Gen Sec)
93 Fawad Hasan (NSF Karachi, Gen Sec)
94 Fatima Zaidi (NSF Karachi, President)
95 Ali Raza (NSF Punjab, Organiser)
96 Mir Askari (NSF Sindh, Organiser)
97 Alia Amirali (NSF, Gen Sec Punjab)
98 Mian Naveed (NSF, General Secretary)
99 National Students Federation (NSF)
100 Rashid Khan Orakzai (Orakzai Agency, FATA)
102 Syed Suhaib Ali Shah (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf)
103 Maryam Kanwer (Pakistan Youth Alliance PYA, C0-Founder)
104 Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi (Pakistan Youth Alliance PYA, Founder)
105 Hifza Jillani (Peace activist)
106 Sabeen Mahmud (Peace Niche, Karachi)
107 Sarwat Viqar (PhD Candidate, Concordia University)
108 Marianna Assis (PhD Student, New School for Social Research)
109 Adaner Usmani (PhD Student, New York University)
110 Asif Akhtar (PhD Student, New York University)
111 Natalya Naqvi (PhD Student, University of Cambridge)
112 Shahram Azhar (PhD Student, University of Massachusetts)
113 Sahista Patel (PhD Student, University of Toronto)
114 Amen Jaffer (PhD Student)
115 Shozab Raza (PhD Student)
116 Kyla Pasha (Poet and Beaconhouse National University, Lahore)
117 Ali Hassan (Principal High School, Karachi)
118 Zahra Khalid (Professional, Islamabad)
119 Khadija Ali (Professional, Islamabad)
120 Ahmad Jamal Mirza (Professional, Islamabad)
121 Saadia Toor (Professor, CUNY New York)
122 Ali Nobil Ahmad (Professor, LUMS)
123 Tariq Amin-Khan (Professor, Ryerson University)
124 Sahar Shafqat (Professor, St. Mary’s College of Maryland)
125 Hadia Akhtar (Quaid-i-Azam University)
126 Waqas Butt (Researcher, University of California, San Diego)
127 Anders Widmark (Researcher, Uppsala University)
128 Nadia Hasan (SARG South Asia Research Group , York University)
129 Nausheen Quayyum (SARG, York University)
130 Nishant Upadhyay (SARG, York University)
131 Nayani Thiyagarajah (SARG, York University)
132 Tanveer Hussain (School Teacher, Karachi)
133 Toufic Haddad (SOAS and Editor, International Socialist Review)
134 Sanaa Alimia (SOAS, Senior Teaching and Postdoctoral Fellow)
135 Peter Boyle (Socialist Alliance, Australia)
136 Tony Iltis (Socialist Alliance, Australia)
137 Margaret Gleeson (Socialist Alliance, Brisbane Australia)
138 Uneeb Khan (Software Architect, Lahore)
139 Usman Rana (Student Activist)
140 Usmaan Basharat (Student, Arizone State University)
141 Omer Aijazi (Student, British Columbia)
142 Sohaib Ibrahim Khan (Student, Columbia University, New York)
143 Fatima Tassadiq (Student, Columbia University)
144 Zarak Khan Kasi (Student, Coventry University)
145 Mujtaba Waseem (Student, Faisalabad)
146 Bilal Anwar (Student, FC College Lahore)
147 Saif Ullah Nassar (Student, FC College University, Lahore)
148 Haider Tupi (Student, Karachi)
149 Muhammad Asaad Khan (Student, Lahore School of Economics)
150 Fatima Javed (Student, LUMS)
151 Virinder Singh (Student, Manchester University)
152 Haider Naqvi (Student, New School, New York)
153 Hira Nabi (Student, New School, New York)
154 Asad Ur Rehman (Student, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics)
155 Hassan Turi (Student, Parachinar FATA)
156 Nadine Zubair (Student, Parent, Citizen)
157 Iman Sultan (Student, Temple University, Philadelphia)
158 Tayyaba Jiwani (Student, University of Toronto)
159 Arsalan Khan (Student, University of Virginia)
160 Aina Niaz (Student, Utah State University)
161 Ayyaz Mallick (Student, York University, Toronto)
162 Mehreen Kasana (Student)
163 Chloe Bourcier (Student)
164 Myra Faza (Student)
165 Naila Ali (Student)
166 Halimah Babakarkhail (Student)
167 Fatima Anwar (Student)
168 Jahanzeb Dar (Student)
169 Asghar Dashti (Teacher Federal Urdu University Karachi)
170 Iman Sultan (Teacher, Islamabad)
171 Faisal ur Rahman (Teacher, Karachi)
172 Amber Saeed (Teacher)
173 Erum Haider (Teaching Fellow, LUMS and PhD Student, Georgetown University)
174 Saad Intikhab (University of Hong Kong)
175 Zehra Goawala (University of Melbourne)
176 Snehal Shingavi (University of Texas, Austin)
177 Shamineh Mavalvala (University of Toronto, Sussex University)
178 Madeleine Nephew (Washington, D.C.)
179 Muneeb Siddiqui (Writer)
101 Feriyal Amal Aslam
180 Ibad Khurram Khan
181 Rabayl Mirza
182 Moaiz Siddiqui
183 Vaqas Arshad
184 Ziyaad Yousef
185 Zehra Hashmi
186 Mahwish Humayun
187 Muhammad Shehryar
188 Atif Sheikh
189 Usman Khalid Kashmiri
190 Beenish Raza
191 Farooq Tariq
192 Annie Onaiza
193 Zainab Moulvi
194 Mahvesh Khan
195 Angela Ramos
196 Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
197 Bakhshal Thalho
198 Sarah Humayun
199 Ali Raza
200 Fahd Ali
201 Anzee Altaf
202 Safdar Bashir
203 Hasan Rashid
204 Zehra Wamiq
205 Haziq Basharat

Obama confirms drone strikes in Pakistan

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Obama confirms drone strikes in Pakistan

Obama has publicly admitted for the first time that the US carries out drone strikes inside Pakistan – and the admission came in, of all things, a Google video chat (or, more accurately, a “video hangout” on Google+).

“End of the [U.S.] pro-democracy pretense”

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Glenn Greenwald has a great new post on the remarkably honest turn in the U.S. foreign-policy narrative about the Arab Spring: that it’s dangerous, radical, and counter to U.S. interests in the region. Of course, this sentiment is not new – after all, it is an enduring pillar of U.S. foreign policy – but what is remarkable is the breathtaking honesty of the statements now being made by the U.S. foreign-policy cognoscenti.


NYT sues Obama administration

December 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

NYT sues Obama administration

The New York Times has sued the Obama administration to gain access to legal documents that have authorized targeted assassinations, especially of U.S. citizens. The most famous of these is the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen. The Obama administration’s policy of ordering assassinations without formal charges or trials goes even further than Bush-era policies.

Why drones aren’t game-changers

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a great report out today about drones. It appears that drones aren’t exactly better or more efficient than other forms of warfare. According to the report, based on analysis done by the United States Air Force and provided to, there have been no fewer than 13 crashes of Predator drones in 2011 alone. The most recent crash of the Predator drone in Iran has received a lot of attention, but it appears that these drones crash routinely in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area without getting the same kind of attention. These crashes are expensive for the U.S. military, often costing $2 million per crash.

Another expense is the tremendous cost of maintaining the many air bases that drones are housed and operated out of. The report notes that there are as many as sixty bases that are involved in the U.S. global drone operation.

And of course, there is already plenty of evidence that drones are not effectively targeting militants, with thousands of innocent children, women, and men being killed or injured as a result of drone strikes.

So why bother with the drone campaign? Why would the U.S. persist in pursuing a strategy that is neither cheap nor effective? Well, the answer is quite simple. The U.S. continues to use drones because they perpetuate the illusion that war is a cheap, precise, and bloodless game, without any victims. The most important victim that the U.S. is concerned with is, of course, the U.S. soldier. With unmanned drones, soldiers can be in the safety and comfort of their home base in Nevada and pilot the drone without any risk to them. Just like a video game. But the American public, sensitized by the ugliness of the Vietnam War, doesn’t care to see brown people suffer either. That’s why there is a virtual news blackout of war victims in U.S. media. And now, with drones, it’s easy to convince oneself that drones target only bad guys, and spare everyone else. This is the big lie that has become so useful to U.S. foreign policy, and why the drone program is not only here to stay, but is expected to grow manifold in the future.

This is the lie we must fight to expose.

Drones, fear, and Barack Obama

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Washington Post carried an article yesterday about the terrifying effect of the use of drones by Israel in Gaza. Yes, drones are terrifying. They kill but their terror spreads well beyond their lethal effect. For the people who are targeted, the use of drones is a chilling constant reminder that the aggressor is everywhere, and can strike at any minute, at anyone, any time it wants to. Frustratingly, the story is about Israel’s use of drones, and essentially ignores the fact that the U.S. is the most prolific user of these deadly weapons. But the article does note:

…the most enduring reminder of Israel’s unblinking vigilance and its unfettered power to strike at a moment’s notice is the buzz of circling drones — a soundtrack also provided by American drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas and, increasingly, parts of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. drone war is largely invisible, carried out in remote regions sometimes beyond the boundaries of America’s battlefields. U.S. officials are reticent to discuss the program, which President Obama has reliedon more than his predecessor to kill enemies [emphasis added].

That’s right. Barack Obama has relied more heavily on a covert, illegal, and deadly program than George W. Bush – you know, the guy that we all love to hate, the one who illegally invaded Iraq to the chagrin of not just nutty third world people but even Europeans! When you couple this with the explicit policy of the Obama administration that it is legal to assassinate U.S. citizens without charges and without a trial (as it did with Anwar Awlaki in Yemen, again using drones), it may actually be the case that Barack Obama actually has much greater contempt for U.S. and international law than did George W. Bush.

Given that Barack Obama came to office vowing to improve relations with the rest of the world, the fact that he has relied so heavily on a military strategy designed to inculcate fear (without gaining much military advantage) is stunning.


Marvi Sirmed brings down Zaid Hamid

August 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

There may not be much substantive consequence to this bit of news, but for many of us, it is certainly deeply satisfying to see one of Pakistan’s most idiotic figures, Zaid Hamid, being taken down by journalist and writer Marvi Sirmed. For those who are fortunate enough to be unacquainted with Zaid Hamid, suffice it to say that he represents the most muscular and fascist strain of Pakistani hyper-nationalism, complete with rhetoric that would be amusing if it weren’t taken so seriously by so many. (A sample: ”Inshallah one day you will hear… ‘This is Radio Pakistan from New Delhi’.”) Most of Hamid’s hatred is trained on India (and, of course, by extension non-Muslims in Pakistan), but he has plenty of vitriol for others too.

Zaid Hamid was recently invited on to a TV program to discuss his criticism of Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the South Asian Free Media Association meeting, in which Sharif made some benign comments about Indo-Pak peace (let’s not forget that Nawaz Sharif is as belligerent a nationalist as any, so it’s hard to take his comments as anything more than lip service). But Hamid used the opportunity to lambast Sharif and trot out his usual hyper-nationalist fire-breathing. What was different about this show, however, was that journalist and writer Marvi Sirmed was the other guest on the show, and she gave a rare (for Pakistani TV) and thoroughly impressive rebuttal to Hamid’s nonsense.

You can view the show below, in four parts:

Class Struggle in Pakistan

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

In case anyone’s interested, here’s a hard copy of the talk I gave at the ISO’s Socialism Conference in Chicago this year. There’s a chance that the discussion is recorded somewhere–which would be nice, if only because the war and the corollary question of the antiwar movement were discussed in more depth in the Q&A.


Corruption, OBL, Terrorism

June 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have just spent the best part of my Saturday morning responding to an uninformed provocation by someone I haven’t spoken to in seven years. It goes without saying that the only way I can justify this otherwise colossal misuse of time is by sharing what I wrote. I hope some of this is interesting.

(In case it’s not clear, the provocation consisted of four points: 1. Pakistan is poorly run; 2. Pakistan is corrupt; 3. Pakistan’s government sponsors terrorists; 4. Pakistan’s population is complicit in the support of terrorism.)


- – – -

“1. Pakistan is poorly run” AND “2. Pakistan is corrupt”

The problem with this claim is not that, as an empirical fact, Pakistan is actually characterized by “good governance,” but that one needs to think more carefully when assessing the explanatory relevance of “bad governance.” There are two questions, here: first, what explains ‘bad governance’? Second, what does ‘bad governance’ explain? On both of these questions, mainstream wisdom offers no sound answers, only flourishes for political speeches. « Read the rest of this entry »

Home Based Workers Organizing

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Contrary to popular perception, most women work in Pakistan, and often inside the home in the informal economy. Sixty-five per cent of the female workforce works at home, and a 2009 survey estimated their number to be 8.52 million, although activists suggest it may be as high as 12 million.

These workers are not protected by formal labour laws and suffer the legal and social disabilities that are typically associated with this form of work – no rights to minimum wage, no social security benefits, inability to organise in unions and lawfully challenge violations of occupational health and safety (OSH) laws.

Home based workers (HBWs) do piece rate work which means they get paid for the number of items they complete.  Often it is seasonal.  Bangle work, for example, is in high demand before the two Eids, and this offers what Zehra Khan of the Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) calls a short time frame to negotiate higher rates from middle men and contractors.  Otherwise, HBWs are overly dependent on middle men who exploit their lack of market access and limited mobility, and hire them for the lowest possible wages without regard to the potentially hazardous nature of the substances used in their work. Because they can.

A backward race

These women though, are brave and tough and often feel they can win the race of piece rate work, and build towards a dowry.

HBWWF General Secretary, Zehra Khan says it is a backward race – in time, their health deteriorates, rates are degrading and the government places remuneration at one third of minimum wage. Workers can cite numbers that would boggle the mind in light of inflated food prices – Rs9 for 1,000 incense sticks or Rs3 for oneshalwar.  Thus, it is optimistic to think they can make a profit, let alone a living wage. The odds are against them, and unless HBWs come together and form effective collective bargaining units,industrialists will continue to exploit them to maximise profits, and they’ll be nickled and dimed into oblivion.

Women conduct all types of work at home, and become experts in some area – they cut, crop, shred garments, and stitch pants and shirts. They make incense sticks – they mix chemicals, dry the sticks, and then paste. With children, they de-vein and peel shrimps and pack them. They glue jewels to bangles, make beedis, and weave carpets.

Hazardous conditions

Working conditions are less than ideal. They squint under poor light, bend and crouch for long periods, and use chemicals that are probably dangerous. Organisers too are often unaware of the exact nature and long term effects of these chemicals and identify them through the symptoms suffered by the women – skin diseases, lung infections, and jaundice.

Home based work is done by women from all ethnicities, be they Bengali and Sindhi women of Rehri Goth associated with fisheries or Punjabi and Urdu speaking women of Akhtar Colony or Gadap Town in Karachi.

While home based work is one of the sources of women’s economic oppression, formal employees are only slightly better off. Factory owners will hire them as contract, temporary or contingent workers in order to avoid paying social security benefits. And because these workers are not issued employment letters, like home based women workers, they cannot access the labour courts which require that you first prove an employment relationship to assert a cause of action against the employer.  And, if they can prove their status, labour courts are painstakingly slow, and susceptible to bribery by employers who wield greater power.  Encroaching further on workers’ rights are exports processing zones that entice multinationals to do business in Pakistan by selling the pliable (and exploitable) nature work force that is disallowed from legally unionising or going on strike.

This top to bottom system of semi and full informalisation of the workforce where industrialists, both local and multinational, are given an unconditional guarantee of a ready, able and willing body to do the work ensures them a higher profit margin at the peril of the entire community.

Labour laws implementation: Easier said than done

It is a small step in the right direction that the Labour Ministry is consulting and procuring feedback in order to develop a national policy on home based workers. The policy aims to accord home based workers legal status and equality in relation to others doing the same work, provide them with marketing opportunities, skills training, occupational safety and health, permission to form unions and bargain collectively, and would mandate middlemen and subcontractors to enter into written contracts with the workers. It articulates a plan to ratify the ILO Convention on Home Work, C177 which requires governments to accord HBWs protections.

However, the policy does not question whether work, especially hazardous work, should be conducted at home at all, considering that most informal work is done in two room homes in slums.  Home based workers are in fact subsidizing capitalists by providing their own water and electricity while they produce at slave wage someone’s product.

The policy specifies that the:

“tendency to forcibly bring HBWs to designated working centres in urban or peri-urban areas will be discouraged.”

A laudable goal as any forced transportation of workers sounds tyrannical. But, this does not address the default where congested homes, where occupants suffer high incidences of infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis, are converted into factories and work stations, where women work, cook, and care for children all at once, compounding the health risks.

Indeed, it defines a HBW as a person who works within the home boundaries or in any other premises of his/her choice. Arguably, work at home helps women who would otherwise not have employment. But then the policy needs to be explicitly worded about safeguards from noxious substances and reimbursements for water and electricity usage.  At this stage, it is rather rudimentary and toothless, and perhaps more will come at the planning, implementation, and enforcement points.

The government claims, in what appears half hearted, that they:

“shall endeavour to convince large, medium and small industry owners  and business owners, employers and their intermediaries to ensure the  home-based workers’ right to health and occupational safety.”

At a later stage, the government plans to:

“upgrade homes in order to make them more hygienic, safe, and comfortable.”

This sounds like an easier said than done proposition. If the government were really serious about it, then this would imply upgrading not just homes, but katchi abaadis and their crumbling infrastructure altogether, and working with yet another set of middle men who provide essential services to informal (and often illegal) settlements. It is a massive undertaking, and the casualness of its insertion into the proposed labour policy implies a rather limited conviction to the process.

Humaira, an ex garment union organiser and activist with Women and Development Association (WADA) talks of a plan to build work centres in communities where HBWs would come without coercion with nearby daycare centres staffed by professionals.  She is not convinced that legislation is the answer as laws need enforcement. She says that workers have not realised their current rights under the law, and new law will not make a difference. Litigants will have to take cases to labour courts and the High Court to demand implementation, and this would require time, commitment, and resources and women who are already confined to home based work would have to rely on men in their families to push their cases.

There is no systematic practice of public interest labour law practice which could facilitate this process.  In 2006, lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, worked with WADA families and helped settle a case for the plaintiffs who had suffered serious burns from the toxic waste that a factory had illegally dumped in the SITE area of Karachi. One child died, one’s legs had to be amputated, and twenty others were injured. This is WADA’s one legal success story though workers rights should not turn on individual benevolence and philanthropy rather than systems.  Generally, there is no joint, ongoing collaboration between NGOs and progressive lawyers to build pressure on employersthrough strategic labour litigation.

Implausible suggestions in policy

The national policy also envisions having employers pay social security for home based workers including health-care, pension, disability, and maternity benefits. However, it does not tackle a fundamental issue. The relationship between middlemen and workers is casual, transient, and flexible; often there are multiple middle men and sources of work behind the middle man.  These sources could be factories, independent manufacturers and/or exporters.  The policy would define an employer as a natural or legal person (corporation) that:

“directly or through intermediaries gives out home based work in pursuance of their business activity.”

It could also be:

“a person who can be an owner, sub-contractor, agent or middleperson, irrespective of who provides the materials, equipment or other inputs used by a home-based worker.”

In a litigious society, such a broad definition would have middle men and industries doing cartwheels trying to pass the responsibility.

Who is ultimately the employer – the one who could be held down to the promise of social security payment?

Understandably, the policy is simply a statement of principles and objectives.  Future plans and laws should address some of the practical complexities of interpretation and enforcement.

Work done by WADA, HBWWF and others

Organisers have made interventions. The Home Based Women Workers Federation organised reproductive health clinics. Zehra Khan underscored the level of ignorance in the communities.  As an example, she mentions the inappropriate use of Dettol for personal hygiene, and the lack of knowledge about diseases. Local units of the HBWWF will occasionally arbitrate on behalf of the worker with the middleman, and negotiate higher wages, albeit these will still be lower than what they should be paid under minimum wage laws. They mediate in domestic disputes, and bring people together to fix a neighborhood problem, a blocked gutter, or cases of sexual harassment. The units participate in facilitated study sessions.

Impressively, on April 11, 2011, the HBWWF and the Labour Education Foundation (LEF) filled almost every seat at the Karachi Arts Council at their home based workers conference.  Most of the women had been bussed in. Yet, their presence was formidable, and perhaps provided the politicians present (Sindh Labour Minister Amir Nawab and Sindh Women Development Minister Tauqeer Fatima) with the visual they needed – a hall filled with working class women and children supporting their national policy on home based workers. In turn, it provided women workers with a social and politicising opportunity.

WADA and HBWWF both complain about the lack of market alternatives for the home based workers.  In fact Sapna Joshi, an Indian delegate working with a South Asian regional alliance of HBWs, HomeNet, highlighted effective marketing as the number one obstacle to women’s economic empowerment.  Writer Zofeen Ebrahim gives the example of a worker who gets Rs20 to Rs50 for every one dozen girl’s dresses she stitches.

She quotes the worker:

“I know I’m getting very little because the same dress is sold for 200 rupees by the factory to a retail shop. I saw the label myself just before it was being packed and sent off.”

Women can’t market their products directly; yet, frustratingly, they are cognizant of the real value of their work to consumers. WADA tried a system where one of their organizers agreed to place the products in the market for the HBWs thus replacing the middle man. Although well intentioned, he had to abandon the project when storekeepers refused to pay advances for the pants, and it wasn’t feasible for the HBWs to wait indefinitely for returns on meagre capital. The bundles of unsold clothes were sitting in some back shelf in their office waiting for a better idea.

HBWWF, though, is a bit more ambivalent about embracing the role of marketer. They are more explicitly leftist, and explain that there is a risk of becoming an exploitative middle-man.  They cite examples of NGOs that market products for home based workers, but end up retaining a big chunk to run their own enterprise. HBWs usually end up unhappy subsidising the enterprise.

What is a fairer alternative?

Is there a marketing model that works in tandem with the battle that home based workers must necessarily wage to rise above the oppressive system completely – a battle that necessitates an ideological rejection of privatization and capital friendly globalization and strengthens home based workers’ unions towards a larger movement?

Hold the government accountable

The National Policy does not have clear plan either. They mention an affirmative action policy, quite nobly, where the public sector will purchase non-industrial handicraft goods from home based workers – thus cutting out the middle-man, and that various ministries would work together on the marketing issue. Ambitiously, they announce, they will push “OECD countries for preferential or zero tariffs on the South Asian HBWs” products collectively in order to protect the communities of home-based workers “from the demerits of the globalization.”

The policy states that:

“federal and provincial governments shall set up inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral autonomous bodies to put their policy into action.”

However, since the wheels of the justice, the legislature, and administration turn slowly, it may take a while for HBWs to receive actual social security benefits, employment cards, and to realize the impacts of protectionism.  The way forward for HBWs is to hold the government to their promises, and to build the unions, and bring these unions under the fold of intercity and province federations as the HBWWF has done with three unions in Hyderabad and Karachi, and in Balochistan.

The key is to build local bodies and mechanisms for workers to directly negotiate for better rates, demand full disclosure of all chemicals used in processes and safe practices, use the courts and police as a stick, and explore economic alternatives to the middle man. Communities that are economically disempowered need immediate solutions as well as long termed ones – access to markets, education, healthcare, and awareness around health and safety.

Unions must go viral

While many organisations are working with home based workers (HBWWF and WADA are just two), organisers are guarded about their work and there seems little cohesion or non tokenist leadership amongst the HBWs.

NGOs obviously cannot cater to 12 million HBWs. Inevitably, unions must go viral and do movement building, shut down shops, use seasonality to their advantage.  Leadership must evolve.  A dependence on donor funding for the work should cease. Workers in different informal sectors (fisherfolk, domestic workers, and home based workers) must demonstrate solidarity with one another. Unity must also be forged between the formal sector and the non home based informal sector. At the home based workers convention, the National Trade Union Federation extended its full support to home based workers’ unions – a good gesture.

There is a world to win, but not without workers seeing the commonalities of their oppression.

Abira Ashfaq

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