A significant meeting of the trades unions of South Asia took place in Karachi on the 1st and 2nd of September 2003 in the context of the South Asia Labour Conference for Peace and Regional Co-operation. From India, the group included representatives from all the major national unions – the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the All-India Trade Union Congress, the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the New Trade Union Initiative – as well as the United Trade Union Congress, the National Fishworkers’ Federation, the Hawkers Sangram Samiti, the All-India Agricultural Workers’ Union and the All-India Coordination Committee of Trade Unions. The Indian delegation, which included members of the editorial board of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ received enthusiastic red flag receptions in the spirit of international labour solidarity in Lahore, Hyderabad and Karachi. The trades unions associated with ‘Awami Manshoor’, our fraternal journal in Pakistan, played a major role in organizing the mass workers’ meeting in Karachi which included a moving dramatic performance of Sahir Ludhianvi’s ‘Parchaiyan’. At the opening of the conference Khurshid Alam Khan, the secretary general of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation pointed out that the highest number of poor people in the world lived in South Asia. ‘Will our countries go on fighting?’ he asked. ‘Don’t we want peace and progress?’ Surendra Mohan, former MP, HMS leader and spokesperson for the Indian delegation, stressed that ‘Today we need peace more not just because people die in war but because we need it for progress and prosperity. If the World Trade Organisation is making all your decisions, what is the point of speaking of your sovereignty? Our independence is under a real threat,’ he stated. The discussions at the conference revealed that the countries of South Asia were being conjointly assaulted by imperialist globalisation and neo-liberalism while the reactionary governments in these countries were increasingly trampling upon the rights of the working class and working peoples. The conference resolved, inter alia, that labour in the region must work for regional peace, demilitarization, denuclearisation, and the elimination of foreign military bases. It condemned the savage attack and occupation of Iraq. During the course of the conference the members of the editorial board of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ were privileged to learn of the struggles of the working people of Pakistan and exchange views with the comrades of Mazdoor Mahaaz and the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party.
The participants of the South Asia Labour Conference for Peace and Regional Cooperation, belonging to workers organizations and labour support organizations in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, having met at Karachi at the invitation of PILER, Karachi – Pakistan and CEC, Delhi – India, on behalf of the South Asia Labour Forum (SALF);
Recalling and reaffirming the statement of the Kathmandu conference of May 1996 and its resolutions on a South Asian Labour Rights Charter, on Environmental Standards and Rights and on Human Rights;
Adopt the following declaration, to be known as the Karachi Declaration.
We have assembled in Karachi to strengthen people’s urge for peace and solidarity among the peoples of South Asian region generally and particularly the working classes of the region.
We jointly affirm and resolve:
1. That developments since 1996 have added urgency to the need for adopting the South Asian Labour Rights Charter, and resolves to formulate a SAARC Code of Conduct for Trans-National Corporations, based on ILO’s Tripartite Declaration, and therefore labour organizations in the region redouble their efforts towards realizing these objectives;
2. That the people and governments of the region must press forward for the maintenance of peace, reduction of tensions of all kinds and the fostering of a climate of good and friendly neighbours;
3. To initiate a process of demilitarization and move towards global and regional denuclearisation and elimination of foreign military bases and weapons of mass destruction and the arms race and ensuring that no such bases are allowed to be set up in future in South Asia;
4. To press for immediate drastic reduction of defence budgets, in order to minimize the risks of armed conflicts and wars, and promote a sense of security and mutual confidence; and that the money saved from reducing defence budgets should be used for promoting people’s needs and interests in education, housing, health and welfare;
5. To create healthy and friendly atmosphere, all outstanding international disputes shall be settled by bilateral comprehensive, continuing, political dialogue;
6. To increase people to people contacts and take part in political, economic and cultural events to promote friendship, mutual and common interests and reduce prejudices; and in order to achieve these objectives, make travel facilities including the granting of visas easy, friendly and fast;
7. To press for an unfettered exchange of information – newspapers, magazines, books and other publications among the South Asian countries;
8. To resume, strengthen and expand regional trade ties for the maximum and equitable benefits and interests of all people of the region, which provide all safeguards necessary for the protection of comparatively smaller economies in the region;
9. To mobilize labour against all hatred, prejudices and divisions based upon ethnicity, race, caste, religion or national chauvinism;
10. To ensure the free political participation of workers and peasants and all the people, to determine their destiny;
11. That the widening gap between workers in the formal and informal sectors, caused by a huge expansion of the latter, calls for special efforts by the trade unions in these sectors to effectively coordinate among each other with a view to defending and ensuring their basic labour rights; social security, fair wages and safe working conditions;
12. To press for the right of people to move freely across the world and the region to earn livelihoods, through a system of work permits for immigrant labour; which ensures that no discrimination takes place between national and immigrant workers, and creates national legislation for the special protection of immigrant women workers;
13. To ensure that governments in the region withdraw all anti-trade union and anti-worker laws and administrative measures; and governments ensure secure employment, fair wages and safe working conditions to the workers in the unorganized sector, including those in the agricultural sector;
14. To ensure safe, fair, equal and equitable working conditions to women workers, while opening more employment opportunities to women; sexual harassment and exploitation of women and girls at the workplace must be stopped. All social laws, customs and practices militating against gender equality must be removed;
15. To eliminate Child Labour from all occupations which are hazardous or deprive a child of rights to healthy physical and mental development and to ensure that governments in the region protect the rights of the child as embodied in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
16. To fully implement all United Nations and ILO Conventions on human and democratic rights as well as social, economic and cultural rights and to ensure that no persons, areas or occupations are excluded from such rights; and that labour unions are promoted for implementation of such rights;
17. To press for equitable agrarian reforms to promote rights of peasants and agricultural labour; for elimination of all exceptions contained in policies and laws; for measures to make peasant agriculture more productive and sustainable; to reject contract farming and corporatisation of agriculture; and develop institutions and policies to support and promote cooperative farming;
18. To press for evolving a suitable legal regime conferring the rights of custodianship of natural resources vis a vis water, forest and land on the labour communities which depend on them for their livelihood and evolve adequate mechanisms to protect these resources;
19. To ensure that the South Asian Governments immediately stop harassment, arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention of fish workers crossing the boundaries of maritime territories and evolve an effective permanent regional mechanism to deal with these issues. We also demand the immediate release of all the fishworkers currently under detention in these countries.
20. To pursue policies of full employment generation, by making the right to work as a fundamental right for all men and women;
21. To reject privatisation and disinvestment of Public Sector Enterprises and withdrawal of the state from social, economic, education, health, housing, civic services and welfare spheres and the ideology that private sector is more responsive and more efficient than the public sector in these fields; all public assets related to the infrastructure sold through the privatization process should be re-nationalised.
22. That the WTO perpetuates a subtle and pervasive form of re-colonisation through economic warfare and sham negotiations, which promote the stranglehold of the international economic elites upon people; therefore, the labour movement should build alliances with all progressive social forces that stand in opposition to the WTO;
23. To reject the so-called poverty reduction strategies prepared for South Asia by imperialist agencies, which are a perpetuation of the neo-liberal programmes of structural adjustment that have already intensified unemployment, mass poverty, and crushing foreign debt;
24. The imperialist debts, whose principal has been returned many times over, should be considered fully paid back.
25. To coordinate efforts of the labour movement towards these ends nationally, regionally and internationally, by expanding the Preparatory Committee of SALF to include additional participating labour organizations at the Karachi Conference and all other organizations that endorse the South Asian Labour Rights Charter, in order to implement the Karachi Declaration and prepare an Action Plan of 2004, to be circulated to all the participating organizations for their approval.
26. To authorize the Preparatory Committee to constitute a South Asian Labour Commission of 4 to 5 eminent persons, preferably sympathetic jurists, from each of the South Asian countries, for regional oversight of implementation of ILO and UN conventions and national labour legislation.
Resolution on Iraq
The participants of the South Asia Labour Conference for Peace and Regional Cooperation, belonging to workers organizations and labour support organizations in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, having met at Karachi at the invitation of PILER, Karachi – Pakistan and CEC, Delhi – India, on behalf of the South Asian Labour Forum (SALF)
1. Strongly condemns the most savage attack and occupation of Iraq on lame excuses violating all international laws, norms, and by-passing the United Nations.
2. The Conference demands immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq.
3. The Conference expresses its solidarity with the people of Iraq in their struggle for self defence; and appeals to all peace loving peoples of the world to stand by the Iraqi people in resistance to imperialist occupation.
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