`Pakistan`s founder worked as a trade union leader`
LAHOR E: Very few Pakistanis know that their country was founded by a trade union leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was elected president of the All India Postal Staff Union in 1925; Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were among the other strong labour leaders of the day, said Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) director Karamat Ali, a veteran labour rights activist.
He was speaking in the first session of the `100 years of Soviet Revolution: A South Asian Perspective` conference that started at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on Friday.The keynote speaker, Nighat Said Khan, opened the conference with an incisive analysis of the women`s movement of the 1980s, feminism and left politics. She presented her paper `From the Footnote to the Page: Women, Marx, Marxism and Marxists`.
While appreciating measures taken recently by various left-wing political parties to mainstream women activists, she deplored that the lef t had also driven away a cadre of women activists in the aftermath of Ziaul Haq`s regime.
Mr Ali shared an anecdote describing how many in the left would see feminism and the `women`s question` as a move to divide the party and an attack on religion.
He presented a paper on `Impact of Soviet Revolution on Global Labour Movements` saying that the turn of the 20th century had found workers protesting for an eighthour work day, a demand they had put forward in increments after being forced to work for up to 16 hours a day.The impact of the revolution in the Soviet Union on workers movements around the world could be seen in the documents, legalese and language of the financial and political elite, he said. The workers were a force to be reckoned with and the rulers could no longer af ford to ignore their right to a life of dignity.
`Of course, this was met with ridiculous anti-Soviet propaganda,` he added, and stressed that it was this push from the global proletariat bodies that led to the formation of the International Labour Organisation which laid the preamble for workers` rights that would be upheld around the world.
Presenting an analysis of how the spirit of revolution played out locally, Anushay Malik who teaches at LUMS spoke on The Soviet Union and the Lahori Belief in Proletarian Revolution, 1947-1972.
She traced various key movements of the 20th century and argued that they were not spontaneous uprisings but had years of groundwork behind them. The idea of a rev-olution especially gained credence among the workers and even the bourgeoisie because the Soviet Union existed in that form, she said.
Yet, despite the crackdown on the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1954 and the brutal repression of labour and student movements that followed, the belief in a communist revolution persisted, Ms Malik added.
Sarah Suhail, a doctoral candidate in women and gender studies at Arizona State University, shared her personal journey of becoming an activist and spoke about problems the activists often faced in mobilisation around class and gender.
She said her research on bonded labour helped her understand structural causes of social and economic inequality which became the driving force behind her activism.
`If exposure to such grave injustice and stark inequality doesn`t drive academics to action then there is a problem,` she said.