Pakistan’s Sanitation Workers Fighting Bosses and Open to PL Ideas

PAKISTAN, May 13 — Sanitation workers are the most exploited workers in Pakistan. They live in miserable conditions with slave wages, no security, no pension and no benefits. Parents and children live together in small mud-made dwellings covered with leaves, with one room consisting of a kitchen, living and bedroom. Sanitation workers also suffer special prejudices — they are prohibited from eating or drinking with other people if they do not bring their own cups and dishes. Strikes have begun against these conditions.

They start work early morning and labor for 18 hours for slave wages, without proper equipment like gloves or boots. Permanent workers are paid only 5,000 Pakistani Rupees (PKR) (59 US$) per month; temporary workers get PKR 4,000 (47 US$). If they have an on-the-job accident, they cannot get medical treatment and can be fired anytime. Female domestic workers face violence and sexual attacks. There are no weekends or holidays in their lives —they live just to serve.

Many sanitation workers thus suffer from health problems produced by working conditions. Some suffer from blindness. Skin and breathing problems are very common but there is no free medical treatment or any other benefit. When sick they cannot remain in their small dwellings; if they do not work they cannot eat.

The sanitation workers are labeled “minorities.” Their “representatives” in parliament are the wealthy who never visit their dwellings. The religious institutions are also silent about these workers’ wretched exploitation. Both the politicians and religious officials just protect the interests of the rich bosses.

Organizing A Union to Fight Back

A small Pakistani town contains 220 families (about 2,000 people). Many have been attacked by landowners, chasing them from temporary living areas. About five years ago, the workers formed the Sanitation Workers Association (SWA). They began organizing strikes and sit-ins to get a piece of land on which to live. Despite brutal torture and starvation they maintained these strikes and won a 15×15-yard piece of land for each family. However, this land is about 1.6 miles away from the town and has no electricity, water or road, making it difficult to reach the town where they work. Of course, without water and electricity they cannot live there. They demanded infrastructure but the administration refused, saying the government has no money. We must organize strikes and militant actions against this special type of fascism.

After the October 2005 earthquake, the SWA won an allotment of 57 houses but these houses cannot resist severe weather, another example of the corruption of the politicians and authorities. Workers are organizing a strike against the district administration which is controlled by corrupt politicians.

PLP is struggling with these workers to understand that without smashing the exploitative capitalist system, workers cannot rid our class of this poverty and homelessness. A comrade and a few friends of the Party have distributed a leaflet linking this misery facing these sanitation workers to the need for a communist revolution to change the situation.

Such an international communist revolution is no easy task; it needs the firm commitment of workers to an international communist party, PLP

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