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Labour Perspective on the Bhutto Years

Nasir Tyabji

By Zafar Shaheed
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2007, pp. xiv 350, Pak Rs. 550.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

This book, based on a significant Ph.D work in an area where academic work is sparse, has been brought to our attention through its belated publication by the Pakistani Branch of the Oxford University Press. Despite the fact that it deals with events which took place 35 years ago, it is not cast as an exercise in social history (more on this later). Importantly, it provides a labour perspective on the Bhutto years in Pakistan, surely the period that can be classified as representing the only significant populist phase of rule in that country’s history. The Bhutto Government’s approach to the problems it faced when confronted by militant workers’ struggles can be effectively analysed through this prism, as could the Indira Gandhi Government’s real proclivities be gauged by its handling of the 1974 Railway Strike.   During the pre-Independence period, the major centres of working class organization in Pakistan were based on the transportation sector, railway workers in Lahore, and railway and port and dock workers in Karachi. Although the Lahore workers were in the forefront of the working class movement, both organizationally and ideologically, at the national level their counterparts in Karachi were more driven by elemental reactions to their living and working conditions. In the post-independence period, the influx of workers into Karachi roughly covered two phases: upto the 1960s, this was largely constituted of Urdu speaking migrants from India, who had substantially an urban, industrial work force background. Following the explicitly pro industrialization policies of the Ayub Khan period, there was large scale rural urban migration from North Western Punjab and NWFP during the middle and late 1960s.   So by the time of the Bhutto interlude the protagonists in the arena of struggle in Karachi consisted of an older, already long urbanized, section of the workforce, traditionally known as the mojahirs; rural migrants from Punjab and the NWFP and a capitalist stratum almost entirely drawn from the Gujarati community of traders, also migrants from western India. This section, representing 1 per cent of Pakistan’s population, had controlled an impressive 50 per cent of the country’s industrial assets in 1959. Even if this concentration had been diluted by industrial initiatives in the 1960s, this was an astonishing (and easily targetable) concentration of economic power.   In fact, according to Zafar Shaheed’s informants in the trade union and radical sections, the populist edge to PPP policies stemmed from the ...

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