PPP and the working class

President Zardari has signed the Services Tribunal (Amendment) Bill 2010, repealed the Removal from Service (Special Power) Ordinance 2000 and Section 2A of the Services Tribunal Act 1973, a controversial clause that deprived redress to employees as they were not allowed to approach labour courts. Friday obviously turned out to be quite an eventful day for the PPP government. On the one hand the prime minister tried to plead the government’s case in his first monthly radio address to the nation while on the other hand, the president gave voice to the working class. The government has moved in the right direction by taking the PPP back to its original pro-people roots.

When the PPP came into being in 1967, its manifesto aroused great enthusiasm amongst the working class and the peasantry as it promised them a bright future. The PPP manifesto gave an impression that all factories belonged to the workers while all land belonged to the cultivators. The PPP promised to implement land reforms giving ownership rights to tenants. Instead sundry loopholes were provided to many of the large landowning feudals. This defeated the whole purpose of the exercise. The party’s left-leaning manifesto had committed to the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy. Embarking on that course, inevitably the targets of this policy were Pakistan’s leading industrial and business houses. On the other hand, a development that weakened the working class movement was the cooption of trade unions by the PPP and state-owned units. This resulted in the fate of the labour force that had been at the vanguard of the party’s rise to power being left in the hands of untutored bureaucrats heading the state-owned units, who used the opportunity to make a quick buck. The slogan of ‘roti, kapra, makaan’ was all but forgotten with the passage of time.

When Benazir Bhutto came back from exile to Pakistan in 1986, the people gave her party another chance to prove itself. By this time, the working class was a fractured and pale shadow of its former self because of Ziaul Haq’s massive crackdown on trade unions. The PPP government could not do much for the working class when it came to power in 1988 because it too, in conformity with the received wisdom, had accepted the neo-liberal paradigm and the Washington Consensus. The pendulum now swung from the idea of nationalisation to privatisation. The private sector was now portrayed as the main driver of the economy. Though the private sector is touted as being more efficient than the public sector, this has seldom been the case in Pakistan. Over here privatisation has proved to be a complete disaster. The blame partly lies with the previous governments that were unable to develop a robust mechanism to regulate the private sector. Our kleptocratic entrepreneurial class, in alliance with those foreign investors of dubious credentials, wreaked havoc with the state’s assets once they were privatised. It has now become fashionable to talk about public-private partnerships, but this too has failed to take off.

Having said this, it is a welcome sign that after policy meandering for two years, this government has taken a concrete step for the workers by reversing the draconian laws pertaining to the working class. By going back to its original élan, the PPP stands a better chance of regaining its constituency amongst the workers and the peasantry.

Source: Daily Times



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