Thursday, May 15, 2008

The continuing crisis in Pakistan

by Theo Russell

Based on a talk by Taimur Rahman at a New Worker public meeting on 3rd April 2008.

PAKISTAN is the seventh largest country in the world, has the fifth largest army, and five national and ethnic groups.
There are many national and class contradictions within the state as well as contradictions with imperialism.
Almost two thirds of adults (64 per cent of the total population and 77 per cent of female adults) are illiterate; 28 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line; 45 per cent have no access to health services; 50 per cent have no clean water and 40 per cent of children under five are malnourished.
The British conquered Bengal in 1757 and it took another 100 years before the Punjab was occupied in 1858. The War of Independence in 1857 was defeated largely by Punjabi troops, and the Punjab – especially the West Punjab, which is today part of Pakistan – became the main base for British military recruitment in India.
The base for this recruitment was a peasantry which had been indebted by British policies, but sections of which still regarded the British as better than their previous rulers, the Pathans, or the Sikhs with whom they had fought a series of wars.
The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885, contained strong pro-land reform elements and was seen as a threat by the Punjabi landowners, who moved towards the Muslim League. In this way divisions were created which were used by the British to bring about partition in 1947.
The Communist Party of India, founded in 1925, decided in 1948, a year after Pakistan’s creation, to divide the party into separate parties for India and Pakistan in view of the very different conditions in each country.
In 1951 elements in the Pakistan army opposed to US imperialism and the political dominance of the Muslim League approached the Communist Party for civilian help to overthrow the government. At that time the party was facing severe repression and its leaders were operating underground.
The army conspirators promised that the party would be allowed to function openly and take part in elections, in return for the support of the party and its trade union and peasant committees for a new military regime. But when the plan was betrayed the United States ordered its allies in the Pakistan army to crack down on the Communist Party.
In the 1954 Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, the party’s leaders and the army officers involved in the coup attempt were charged with treason. The party and all its organisations – women’s, students’, trade unions and writers’ – were banned.
Hassan Nasir, a renowned trade union leader and poet, created an underground organisation but he was arrested, brutally tortured and killed in 1960 in Lahore Fort. From then on the party continued to operate underground working closely with the secular socialist National Awami Party, which supports a non-aligned foreign policy.
There are four main political trends in Pakistan:
• Conservatives, supporting military dictatorship and the Muslim League. • Democratic forces including parties supporting bourgeois democracy such as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and left parties such as the Awami National Party and communists. • Nationalist parties in Sindh, Baluchistan, and North West Frontier Province. • Fundamentalists, supporters of Sharia law and political and social reactionaries. The main groups are the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) and the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of Islamic parties.
Pakistan has been dominated by undemocratic rule for most of its history. In 1951 the Prime Minister was assassinated, and in 1958 military rule began. There have been only six years in the 1970s and 11 in the 1980s and 90s of democratic rule.
Unlike some Middle Eastern or African states, military rule does not enjoy a popular base. The 1956 and 1973 constitutions were suspended in by the generals in 1958 and 1977 respectively,.
In 1988 democracy was restored under US pressure, and the 1973 constitution was reinstated in 1991. However once in government the democratic parties lost popular support due to corruption and in-fighting. Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this led to widespread de-politicisation and demoralisation in Pakistan.
In the past 10 years the US has favoured peace between India and Pakistan to avoid the threat of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Muslim fundamentalists or their allies.
The 1991 war with India in the Kargil area of Kashmir created a rift between the civilian and military sections of the ruling class which led eventually to the return of army rule. After 11th September 2001, Washington backed General Musharraf taking power as president, and pressed for showcase elections which took place in 2002.
The Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party (Communist Workers’ and Peasants’ Party) was created in 1995 when the Mazdoor Kisan Party, which broke away from the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1970, re-merged with the CPP.
The CMKP’s current strategy is unity with the broad democratic movement, the Muslim League (Nawaz) led by Nawaz Sharif, the PPP, the Awami National Party, and the nationalist parties, against military dictatorship. The other leftist parties in Pakistan have either become isolated from the masses or compromised with the military.
In Pakistan there is a political cycle that sees the people demanding change every seven to eight years. In 2007 the trigger was the dismissal of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry which sparked national outrage. Chaudhry, politically a conservative, was reinstated, but when Musharraf declared a state of emergency last November the entire Supreme Court was dismissed.
This turned out to be the last straw, and the military was overwhelmed by the popular reaction. The return of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, even though it was arranged by Musharraf and the US, was objectively favourable to the development of the democratic movement.
Benazir was hated by the fundamentalists, and the second assassination attempt against her succeeded. Most people in Pakistan believe that the army was behind the fundamentalists in the operation.
There was a massive popular reaction to her murder. In Sindh alone arrest warrants for more than 600,000 were issued, and hundreds of thousands gathered at Benazir Bhutto’s burial place.
The mass pressure forced president Musharraf into elections in which any party close to the military and the fundamentalists was almost totally wiped out, including many political "giants".
The fundamentalists were reduced from 56 to five seats and the leader of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, lost in his seat to a young People’s Party candidate. The only exception was in Baluchistan, where the local nationalist party made the error of boycotting the election.
The religious fundamentalist parties have never enjoyed popular support and are the creations of the Inter-Service Agency (ISI), a dominant force forces in Pakistan. The fundamentalists’ success in the 2002 elections were thanks to rigging by the army, recently admitted by the retired former number two of the ISI.
The masses are not interested in military rule or corrupt government. They want basic democratic rights and welfare measures. The CMKP has supported this line in its campaigns and its membership has grown rapidly, with a particularly strong base in the students’ movement. The party worked closely with the lawyers from the start of their campaign.
The CMKP did not stand candidates in the elections, but its materials, with the slogan "Don’t vote for military – Don’t vote for Musharraf", and displaying the CMKP’s logo, were distributed and displayed by all the other democratic parties. Taimur spoke at one People’s Party mass workers and peasants rally, where the CMKP’s demands and slogans were warmly welcomed.
The 2008 elections, the result of mass struggle against the dictatorship, have provided a boost for the democratic and progressive trends in Pakistan. Following the February election the opening of new parliament was disrupted by wild chanting of slogans from the public gallery, amid an atmosphere of change and progress.
Among the first decisions of the new PPP-Muslim League (Nawaz) government were to release the judges from house arrest, order a new investigation into the murder of Benazir Bhutto and to restore trade union and press freedoms.
All these actions were supported by the CMKP and have created far better conditions for its work. Democratic rule is also a major boost for national rights in Pakistan.
Another positive development is that India has recently said that relations with Pakistan are the best ever, with new a government in power that favours a peaceful approach. The broad political and mass consensus in Pakistan supports this position, which is a major change over past decade.
The CMKP’s campaign priorities are now for lower prices of basic goods, improved power supplies, against privatisation, and the full restoration of trade unions and student unions.
A new generation of young people with no experience of the Soviet Union or socialism is now emerging. They are receptive to socialist ideas and there is a rediscovery taking place. But the military is still extremely powerful, controls vast economic interests, and remains loyal to imperialism.
The right-wing trade union bloc now affiliated to the ITUC controls the Hydro union, probably the strongest in Pakistan with 100,000 members in one location. The railway unions have the same number of members but they are scattered.
A left trade union bloc was created by the Communist Party in the early 1950s but when the left and communist movements fragmented, the right-deviationist social democrats took the trade union movement with them. In rural the areas the unions have been very weak since the 1970s.
Since 2000 the CMKP has made a major effort to win the trade unions back from the social democratic revisionists. The unions are very demoralised but the All-Pakistan Trade Union Federation (which is mainly based in the
cities) is now linked to the CMKP.

The 900,000 strong Landless Tenants’ Movement, which is organised on army-run estates in the Punjab, staged an uprising in 2000-2002 in which the CMKP took a leading role. But after its leaders were arrested and tortured; divisions were created and the movement split. In 2005 it was revived and has organised huge convoys and mass rallies, some of which were addressed by the CMKP.
While there is no prospect of the PPP implementing land reform, there is an excellent chance of progress for bonded labourers, who are employed by rich peasants rather than by the big landowners. Their case is supported by the Supreme Court and even by the Islamic fundamentalists.
The bonded labourers are a separate caste and isolated from the rest of the movement. Unfortunately they are very dependent on lawyers and NGOs (non-governmental organisations), who have poured in funds for camps, buses and so on, while trying to exclude political parties and de-politicise the bonded labourers. As a result the movement has fractured.
The CMKP still controls the valley of Hashtanagar in North West Frontier Province, which was seized in an armed peasant campaign. This is the only major peasant movement to survive in Pakistan.
The prospects for reducing violence in Pakistan itself have also been boosted by the new government. No sooner had the new government been sworn in than US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte arrived in Islamabad to demand the continuation of military operations in the border areas, but the new government refused to accept this.
This week an anonymous US official warned "The bottom line for us is that we need to see more results. Any agreement must be enforced."
The leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban, an alliance of fundamentalist groups, has declared a ceasefire as part of secret peace talks with the new civilian-led government and the Awami National Party. There have been virtually no suicide bomb attacks since February. The fundamentalists are likely to accept changes in return for Sharia law in the areas they control.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Communist joint statement on the EU-LAC summit

Statement of Communist and Workers’ Parties from EU countries about the 5th EU-LAC summit

On 16–17 May 2008 the Fifth European Union-Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Summit will be held in Lima, Peru.

The objectives of the European Union have nothing to do with combating poverty and social inequalities, or with promoting the environment – benevolent policies as they claim. It seeks to open up the economies of these countries to exploitation, demanding the privatisation of state industries and natural resources, even water, for the benefit of the monopoly capital. It is an illusion to see it as a counterweight to the United States, in favour of the peoples: on the contrary, it has the same imperialist and neo-colonial goals.

With the Lisbon Treaty, new steps are being taken towards configuring the European Union as an economic, political and military bloc, a pillar of the world order of imperialism today, contrary to the interests of workers and the peoples. The sovereignty and independence of peoples and countries are being further undermined. Under the guidelines of the “Lisbon Strategy,” the attack on labour and trade union rights is being stepped up in the name of “modernisation,” “competitiveness,” and “security,” in order to ensure the profits of capital.

The European Union in its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean aims

• at further promoting the interests of European transnational monopolies at the expense of the peoples of the region;

• at promoting trade and investment protection agreements, under the guise of economic association and co-operation agreements;

• at gaining ground in its imperialist competition with the United States;

• at assisting the local oligarchies to tackle the people’s movements, to check and neutralise anti-imperialist struggles and processes that are developing.

The EU-LAC “strategic partnership” runs contrary to the interests of the peoples in both continents.

Along with mass popular resistance and opposition to the EU policies, working people throughout Europe express concern about the aggressiveness of the European Union towards the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean and the opposition to the policies of the European Union and its attempts to impose unjust free-trade agreements are integral parts of our struggle for a Europe of equal co-operation, of social and economic progress, of peace, in opposition to the process of European capitalist integration.

Our parties

• express our strong support and solidarity with the mobilisations of popular movements on the occasion of the EU-LAC summit, with the peoples’ and anti-imperialist forces that participate in the “Summit of the Peoples”;

• reiterate our strong support for socialist Cuba and demand the abolition of the EU “common position” on Cuba as well as all unjust restrictions imposed since 2003

• denounce the outrageous tour by Caleb McCarry in EU countries and demand that the so-called "Cuba Transition Coordinator” should not be received by our governments;

• welcome the victory of the popular forces in Paraguay and reiterate our strong solidarity with Bolivarian Venezuela, Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s governments and people and all peoples that struggle;

• sharply condemn the attempts to destabilise Bolivia and the support provided by the US government as well as the scandalous tolerance showed by other imperialist forces as well as the stance of the EU that seeks to intervene.

• demand that the sovereignty and independence of Latin American and Caribbean countries and peoples be respected;

• we condemn the EU position in solidarity and support for the Colombian government expressed recently by the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

• We demand that FARC-EP and ELN be recognised as combatants and immediately removed from the EU list of “terrorist organisations”; this list itself should be abolished as an obstacle to the peaceful resolution of conflicts;

• reject the unjust association agreements promoted by the European union, such as the current negotiations on an “association agreement” with the Central American countries and the “economic partnership agreement” with the Caribbean region made in December 2007 but still to be ratified;

• oppose “Fortress Europe,” the immigration policy of the European Union that causes a significant “brain drain” from the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean while at the same time denying immigrant workers their essential social and democratic rights and intensifying their exploitation.

The Parties

Workers’ Party of Belgium
Communist Party of Britain
New Communist Party of Britain
Party of the Bulgarian Communists
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
Communist Party in Denmark
Communist Party of Denmark
Communist Party of Finland
Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party
German Communist Party
Communist Party of Greece
Communist Party of Ireland
Workers’ Party of Ireland
Party of the Italian Communists
Socialist Party of Latvia
Socialist Party of Lithuania
Communist Party of Luxembourg
Communist Party of Malta
New Communist Party of the Netherlands
Communist Party of Poland
Portuguese Communist Party
Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain

The Communist Party of Norway, Palestinian Communist Party, Socialist Workers` Party of Croatia (not EU countries) have also extended their support to the statement.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Danish nurses' strike

by Callum Laggan

THE DANISH claim to be one of the world’s leading models of a welfare society is coming under severe strain as the Danish FOA (Care Workers Union) and Danish Nurses Union (Dansk Sygepleje Råd) (DSR) enters its second week of an official strike. They had an unofficial strike in June 2007 following which all leading politicians in the November 2007 general election promised nurses, care workers, and child care workers, equal pay but they have all gone back on their promises.
Social Democrat Helle Thorning Schmidt (married to Neil Kinnock’s son), Villy Søvndal of the Socialist People’s Party and Pia Kjærsgaard from the chauvinistic Danish Peoples Party (DFP) all promised that they would dramatically increase wages in these traditional women’s care areas, and even promised an “Equal Rights Commission”, which they have gone back on since the general election. .
The Danish Liberal / Conservative government, with the support of the DFP has since taken a particularly hard line, saying that the women’s place is to care for the sick and aged. Karen Jespersen, a former Social Democrat who joined the Liberals, and became straight away Social Minister in the present Danish government, says: “In future families and particularly women need to take greater responsibility in caring for sick members of their family, and the care and nursing of older family members.
Jespersen was questioned by the Danish Age Concern about the inability to care 24 hours per day seven days per week, as well as the fact women are now having to work outside the home for unequal pay with men, to keep the strained family budget on track, to cook, do housework and rear children. Jespersen replied that as Welfare and Social Minister, “I am not trying to save money; I am trying to make those with responsibility, namely the closest relatives, take away this burden from society and take responsibility for the society they live in.”
Danish Age Concern (Ældre Sagen) is reporting an increase in the number of elderly people living out their older years on a small pension in cramped unsanitary conditions. The April Edition 2008 of Danish Age Concern Magazine Nu (Now) reports on Solveig Pedersen living in wretchedly miserable small room, 9.5 square metres without a kitchen, bath or toilet in one of Denmark’s richest district council areas of Hamlet’s Ellsinore,
These are increasingly the sorts of conditions over the whole country that social welfare departments of Danish district councils expect elderly people to live in. In Solveig Pedersen’s case Danish Age Concern are trying to press the Danish Health and Safety Executive to take action, due to the unsanitary conditions which are a public health hazard. Sadly this is becoming commonplace in Denmark which claims to be one of the world’s most prosperous countries.
Every time a man in Denmark in the private sector, with the same education earns 100 Danish crowns, a woman in the caring professions earns only 81 crowns. Most Danish women in caring professions report they love their work, but that as no one wants to do the work it is becoming increasingly hard. Danish nursing union (DSR) leader Connie Kruckow says “We need equal pay for men and women in care work, this is a great problem for our members and is a problem for society and the government needs to take responsibility, as it becomes more and more difficult to recruit and retain care workers. We want The Danish Parliament and politicians to demand a ‘Women’s Equal Rights Commission’, which has just happened in Norway and other European countries like the UK to show the need for women to have equal pay with men.”
The nurses and care workers with their present official strike are in the strange position of having to work to provide emergency cover.
As Connie Kruckow says: “Because of the legal guarantee that all have the right to treatment, this conflict which looks as if it will be a long and costly affair for the government, as they are having to send patients to private hospitals, who see a major advantage for their shareholders in the strike being as long as possible as it will increase their balance sheet and bottom line profits.”
The Danish Care Workers’ Union (FOA) is the third largest trade union in Denmark, organising approximately 211,000 members, primarily in the public sector. But they also organise privatised employees in the public sector.
Their members are engaged in a variety of public sector services, from fire, public transport and childcare, to nursing and caring services for the elderly, including food preparation and cleaning work.
Kirsten Norman Andersen, chairperson of the Århus FOA branch, says: “The government is hoping for an economic crisis which will create large numbers of unemployed, forcing women to seek underpaid jobs in care work: for the elderly, children and chronically ill, who will then receive care on a low cost basis. But for our members in the public sector the fight is for equal pay, more hands, better care of the elderly, children and chronically ill, and a better welfare state. Unless we win in this area it is going to become increasingly more difficult to attract the necessary qualified caring personnel, mostly women, to this sector as we need a wage we can live on.
One of the optimistic aspects of this strike is the way women have mobilised to defend their rights. The Welfare Minister says that women’s place is to care for the sick and aged because they tend to lack self esteem and self confidence!
But women on strike supporting one another are suddenly starting to blossom and bloom in self esteem and confidence; lobbying politicians, writing press releases, talking to the media, being interviewed on local, national, and international TV, making banners, thinking of publicity ideas – which the women in Holstebro did, handing out a recipe for baking home made bread, with a lump of yeast and talked to members of the public face to face.
“We need a rise in our pay in the same way that yeast rises bread, to the level of men’s wages so we can afford to eat bread, and care for and look after your elderly, children and chronically ill family, relatives and friends,” one of them said. One thing is certain whatever the outcome of this national strike the Danish women care workers will have gained in self-confidence and optimism from the lessons they are learning from this strike.

If you wish to send them letters of support or emails here are the two addresses :
1) FOA (Care Workers) Frede Gydesen, International AdviserE-mail:
Dennis Kristensen, FOA, Trade Union Chair Person, Staunings Plads 1 - 3, 1607 Copenhagen V Denmark Telephone 0045 46 97 26 26
2) Connie Kruckow Danish Nurses Union, Chair Person, (Dansk Sygeplejeråd) - Sankt Annæ Plads 30 - 1250 Copenhagen, Denmark.K- Postboks 1084 - 1008 København K – email: dsr@dsr.dkTel: 0045 3315 1555