I thought I’d jot down quick notes on the time I spent yesterday with the election campaign of Mian Abdul Qayyum, the joint candidate of the Labour Qaumi Movement and the Labour Party Pakistan in the by-election for Punjab Assembly constituency PP 63, a semi-rural constituency in the Faisalabad area:
1. The Labour Qaumi Movement is led and staffed by workers, mainly from the power loom factories of Faisalabad. There are very few full-time activists – members generally get off from their shifts in the factories and then head out to carry out their assigned duties or attend organisational meetings.
2. The movement started with a spontaneous act of rebellion on the part of Abdul Qayyum and some two to three hundred brick kiln workers against the daily humiliations they were subjected to by their owners and management. After this event, workers would often come to seek Abdul Qayyum’s help to resolve disputes with their owners or managers. Then, in 2002, when local body elections were to be held, he was persuaded to stand as their representative. He got the most votes (>17,000), followed by the PML-N candidate (>16,000), while the rest of the candidates got a few hundred votes (all less than 400). At this point, the workers of Faislabad started treating Abdul Qayyum as their de facto councillor, Nazim, and MPA all rolled into one. So, with some like-minded friends, Abdul Qayyum held neighbourhood meetings in all the residential areas of the power loom workers in Faisalabad to talk to them about their idea of creating a movement for their rights – a movement that they themselves would run. As a result of these meetings, 137 individuals came up to them to offer their services for the creation of the movement. At this point, the group felt that they had enough strength to start an organisation. Some people in the group suggested that they should check out the people who had volunteered, to make sure that no one with a questionable reputation was included. Some people were found to have criminal records, some were engaged in dubious businesses. These were excluded and finally written invitations were sent out to the 97 volunteers who checked out. Abdul Qayyum told me that these were not especially noble people, many had never done anything political in their lives or had any kind of exposure to politics. They were neither particularly good nor bad, just workers who wanted to contribute to an effort to change their lives. A meeting was held in a ground in Faisalabad city (I forget the name) with these 97 volunteers. It started punctually at 9 AM and went on till 8 PM. No food was served by the organiser (a sympathetic friend who set up a tent and seating arrangements), only water. In the meeting, everyone who wanted to speak, spoke – even those who had very little political consciousness. Those who had more awareness, took the attendees through the whole history of the country, asking repeatedly the question, why was Pakistan created? For whom? Why were so many sacrifices made? To gain what exactly? The conclusion that attendees drew was that they had been repeatedly deceived by those in power and that it was now time to take power, to use it to benefit the working class, their fellows. So they decided to found the movement to struggle for their rights. Anyone could be a member except someone who had been unjust to workers, essentially, capitalists and investors. There would be no bar based on caste or tribe (baradri) or religious sect. The other rule they set was of exclusive allegiance: a member of the movement could not simultaneously be a member of another political party or of a trade union backed by another political party.
3. After this, groups were set up in factories and in neighbourhoods. The principle of autonomy was strictly observed: every group was free to set up their own organisation in the manner they thought best, as long as they operated in an honest and open manner. The movement members themselves chose the name “Labour Qaumi Movement” and themselves designed its symbol (the star & crescent on three vertical stripes in red, green and white).
4. A word on Abdul Qayyum and his close associates: he has worked in the power loom industry for 25 years. Before him, his father did the same work for 35 years. He has four young sons (don’t know about daughters), all of whom, along with his wife, are active in the struggle. He used to be a Jamaat-e-Islami member but left it. He is literate and a regular follower of the political scene in the country. In personal interaction, he really opened up to me once I assured him that I understood Punjabi. Some of his close associates are from the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam and even one from the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. But now, they reject the politics of hate-mongering of these organisations and have decided to concentrate on solving the real issues that people face in their daily lives. All of them are, like Abdul Qayyum, power loom workers. They come from all the major castes present in the area – Arain, Rajput and Jat – as well as from smaller groupings. Class consciousness is clearly on the rise here.
5. The major struggles of the movement have been against price-hikes, against layoffs (downsizing) and against load-shedding (which is, implicitly and quite blatantly, unjustly distributed amongst the populace). In these struggles, totally mis-represented in the local and national print and electronic media, many activists of the movement (including Abdul Qayyum) have been in prison several times and even now there is a whole series of FIR’s and counter-FIR’s registered with the police. But with the growth of the movement and the success of its candidates in local body elections (2 nazims and >40 union councillors), the police has had to tone down its aggression and has in fact resorted to appealing to it for help when they are unable to control social disturbances (e.g., the fracas on 12 Rabbi-ul-awwal this year).
Further information on the election and on the Labour Qaumi Movement is available here.
6. Current situation in PP 63:
— Four “serious” candidates: the PPP candidate, the PML-N candidate, the National Muslim League candidate and the LQM/LPP candidate.
— the PML-N (ex-PML-Q) candidate had to resign when it turned out that his degree was fake. That is why the seat fell vacant and the by-election is being held in the first place. Strangely enough, this person’s candidature was accepted once more by the CEC. Not sure how that works.
— both the PML-N and and PPP candidates are using the help of the state (whether provincial or federal government resources). The limit is surely the fact that the Governor Punjab has chosen Sudhar chowk, the campaign headquarters of the LQM candidate, to unveil the PPP’s supposedly labour-friendly (proposed?) legislation package.
— Abdul Qayyum is assured of good support from 8 of the 14 union councils in the constituency, but faces an uphill task in the rest.
— The campaigning is being done by workers organised in teams. There are three male teams and one female team (led by the candidate’s wife). Their aim is that each and every neighbourhood must be visited by one male team, the female team plus a third team led by the candidate himself.
— The workers collect funds amongst themselves, print stickers, have banners painted and put them up themselves without checking with the central campaign office. In this manner, they have managed to print 20,000 stickers and expect to print another 30,000. At the May Day rally organised by LQM, the donation request by the candidate led to the collection of almost Rs. 24,000 within a few hours. Almost all the donation amounts were of Rs. 10 or less.
— Taking advantage of the fact that the candidate’s brother is a painter, the campaign was able to do wall-chalking in all the localities in the constituency at a minimal cost of Rs. 180,000, something that normally costs at least five times as much.
— I found the activists of the movement to be combative, enterprising, fiercely independent and vocal people, with a clear idea of their goals and a seemingly inexhaustible endurance and patience in the face of all kinds of problems – logistical, resource-shortage, sheer obduracy of their interlocutors. They are of this soil and they have taken it upon themselves to bring about a positive change.
— Collect funds. The campaign needs something like Rs. 200,000 for anticipated polling day (May 15, 2010) expenses. The major heads are setting up tents for the campaign’s polling agents at each polling station and the hiring of Qingqi’s and rickshas for the transport of voters to polling stations.
— Volunteer as a polling agent. There are > 130 polling booths in all with around 75 in their stronghold areas. They need people who can read and write to volunteer their time at the polling stations to ensure that no irregularities occur. Given the stakes involved (see below), it is highly probably that all of the other candidates – who are seriously annoyed with what they see as Abdul Qayyum’s impertinent violation of their traditional turf – will attempt some monkey business.
— Provide vehicles (motorcycle or a small car) to help with the campaigning activities.
— Labour Party contact info: Landline: +92 42 6315162 Fax: +92 42 6271149 Mobile: +92 300 8411945
— Amanullah Kariapper (me): ajkariapper AT gmail DOT com
8. Stakes involved:
— the PPP is looking to this election for a validation/approval of its current policies, a kind of popularity rating. Imagine the kind of signal it would be if, after successfully abetting the establishment in the BB murder cover-up, avoiding/messing up the prosecution case against Zardari in the Swiss case, acceding to IMF demands to increase tariffs and reduce subsidies, completely fouling up the energy policy, they find that the people still love them!
— the PML-N is likewise looking for a vote of approval for its policy of strategic alliances with the PPP (e.g. silence on drone attacks and other measures that expand the cope of Pakistan’s collaboration in the “War on Terror”, collaboration in hampering implementation of sugar price controls) combined with purely populist gestures in Punjab (e.g. “I’ll come on to the streets if the situation does not change” – NS, Shahbaz Sharif’s cloning of the PTI’s sasta tandoor initiative).
— the National Muslim League candidate is obviously looking to establish his independent presence on the political scene. This party is his own creation. I don’t have details on why he split from PML-N (or perhaps it was PML-Q?).
— for the Labour Qaumi Movement and for the Labour Party of Pakistan, this is an exciting opportunity to have, for the first time ever, a worker representing a constituency of workers in a provincial assembly. Someone who could speak truth to power, challenge the political class in its cosy, deceiving arrangements and actually propose people-friendly legislation. I leave it to the imagination of labour activists to think out all the different avenues that such a victory opens up!
9. Open questions:
— I do not know what their stance is on the question of the rights of religious minorities. I do know, however, that they have repeatedly demonstrated in solidarity with Baloch peasants killed/targeted in Army operations.
— I’m not sure about their stance on women’s rights. Women are clearly very active in the movement, and overall, they adhere to the usual codes (of behaviour, of dress) that our society demands of women.