The Pandemic and Imperialist Impositions: Impact on Peasants and Labour

Press Release: December 26, 2020

The Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), In light of the coronavirus pandemic, held its 13th Annual Conference online on 26th December 2020. PKMT members from numerous districts of Pakistan were in attendance as well as others also joined.

Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed from Roots for Equity, while talking about the national and global impact of Covid-19, said that the global capitalist system is responsible for the pandemic. We are struggling to fight one pandemic whereas scientists worldwide are already predicting the outbreak of multiple similar pandemics in the future due to the widespread deforestation caused by capitalist greed. These viruses that are found in animals residing deep within the forests are now spreading to humans due to capitalist investors relentless exploitation of forests.

This crisis has given birth to other crises out of which the economic crisis has resulted in even direr circumstances than the pandemic itself. The pandemic has been used by the monopolist capitalist enterprises to strengthen their exploitative tools and increase their superprofits, whereas workers have been left to grapple with growing hunger, unemployment, disease and multiple other consequences of the pandemic. Our puppet states are unsuccessful in their attempts to contain the spread of the pandemic and to fulfill their duty of providing social and economic welfare to the people. At the same time, rich capitalist countries have been successful in using their financial and technological wealth to develop and globally disseminate vaccines for Covid-19, generating immense profits for themselves in the process. Capitalist systems boast of equitable access to resources for all; however, the case of the coronavirus vaccine has exposed the system for what it actually is; a class-based system in which the wealthy are the ones with the easiest access to the highest amount of resources.

Members from PKMT Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Raja Mujeeb, Muhammad Zaman and Asif Khan spoke about the difficulties of small and landless farmers who while facing decreasing crop yields and crop destruction due to climate change were forced to acquire agricultural inputs at higher prices due to restrictions on mobility and transportation during the pandemic. On the other hand, due to limited and expensive modes of transportation, farmers were forced to sell their produce at extremely low prices. In many cases, produce was also wasted. Farmers affiliated with the production and distribution of perishable food items like vegetables and milk were the most affected. Similarly, women agricultural workers earning daily wages lacked means of transport to go to the fields and also fell prey to extortion by security forces.

The hike in the prices of food items has increased hunger and poverty. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2019-20, it is likely that the devastating impacts of the pandemic has had on the economy, an additional 10 million people will fall under the poverty line after which the total number of people living under the poverty line may climb to 60 million instead of the current estimate of 50 million.

Member of PKMT Sahiwal, Choudhry Aslam and Ayman Babar of Roots for Equity pointed towards exploitative policies and practices in the dairy sector that are prioritizing corporate interests despite the pandemic. The imposition of imperialist policies in the sector has led to the creation of Pure Food Law(s) in all provinces, particularly Punjab which are aligned with WTO’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures. These policies are will lead to corporate hegemony in the livestock, milk, meat, fodder and seed sectors. It is critical to point out that 93% of workforce who maintain livestock in Punjab are women. Currently, 95% of the milk market in the country is with small and landless farmers but imperialist policies will result in corporations capturing the local milk market. This will lead to not only loss of livelihoods of millions but also an important source of nutrition that will further exacerbate very high levels of malnutrition and hunger in the country. It is a grim reality that loss of livelihood during the pandemic meant that millions of rural households survived only on milk and wheat.

Junaid Awan, a union leader affiliated with the Railway Workers’ Union, pointed out the sharp rise in labour unemployment of labor on one hand and the hike in prices of commodities on the other. However, privatization, deregulation, and liberalization policies pushed by the World Bank have worsened conditions for workers extensively. Privatization policies undertaken by the government has laid off thousands of workers from Pakistan Steel Mills; Pakistan International Airlines is also following suit by firing thousands of its employees. Pakistan Railway is in the process of being divided and sold off to different companies and the privatization of the sector will inevitably lead to thousands of worker being laid off. It is also being said that CPEC’s ML-1 railway project will be hiring its workers from China. Much like the essential workers serving on the frontlines across the country, many railway workers have also been infected with Covid-19. However, railway hospitals are in such bad state that even medication for minor ailments is difficult to find. In order to silence workers’ unions who are campaigning for workers’ rights, union leaders are being accused of terrorism. Workers’ issues cannot be resolved in assemblies where workers’ rights are represented by landlords and capitalists. Instead, for workers to be granted their inherent fundamental rights, they need to fight on the ground.

Member of PKMT Haripur, Aliya Mohsin highlighted difficulties faced by women workers in factories and other places, remarked that ¼ of all workers in Pakistan are women. The contribution of working women is invaluable in fields, factories, home-based work and in private and government offices. However, when viewed in proportion to their population, the ratio of working women is very low. This is because their rights are violated in all working environments. Every worker has the right to a written contract detailing terms and conditions of work but most factories do not adhere to this and even in cases where a contract may exist, workers are not provided with the relevant documents. The laws of Pakistan maintain that employing any person under the age of 18 is a crime but this law is still openly defied. Similarly, the minimum wage for workers is set by the government at Rs. 17,500. However, countless factories, organizations and workplaces make workers sign receipts confirming that they have been paid Rs. 17,500 whereas, they are actually paid Rs. 7,000 or 8,000. Preventing women workers from unionizing effectively and not giving them concessions during pregnancy are all common issues. It is imperative to organize for the rights of women workers in order to ensure the implementation of labour laws and also develop women workers’ consciousness against capitalist and patriarchal power structures.

In the closing statement, member of PKMT Haripur, Tariq Mehmood, highlighted that the capitalist and land-owning classes make up for no more than 1% of our population while farmers and workers are 99% of the population. This fight needs to be fought in the rural as well as urban areas. The small and landless farmers need to unite with workers in their struggle against feudals, capitalists, and patriarchy. Only then will we able to take our movement forward!

Release by: Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT)