Working Man’s Death – Gadani

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

A very moving portrayal of life at the ship-breaking yards in Gadani, Balochistan, courtesy of Al-Jazeera.

You might recall that Gadani was the scene of some fairly trenchant worker militancy this summer, organized under the aegis of the National Trade Union Federation. The actions failed, due in the main to the machinations of the State and yard-owners, but also to the relative inability of the union to organize across ethnic lines and the multiple workplaces. The struggle was eventually strangled by a illegitimate court order (promulgated by the Sessions Court, which had no jurisdiction over the matter), which banned all demonstrations and gatherings at the shipyards.

Needless to say, all of the workers’ grievances remain unaddressed. This documentary doesn’t mention it explicitly, but dozens of workers have died in entirely preventable accidents on the job, in 2010 alone. The living conditions remain utterly pitiful–when I was there over the summer, the makeshift housing units I saw all lacked sanitation facilities and sources of clean water.

Of course, none of this has prevented yard-owners, contractors, and the State from profiting handsomely–the ship-breaking industry is, thanks to the global downturn, doing relatively well for itself. One only hopes that this, in turn, eventually gives the union the leverage it needs to wage another round of struggle. My suspicions are that this will be difficult: given the depressed nature of the labour market more generally, as a rule workers will incur real costs when attempting to organize (in other words, since it is easy for employers to find replacement workers, the union finds itself in a precarious, uncertain position–this certainly played a role in snuffing out the strike, in July).

Nonetheless, one can always hope.

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