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For country’s toilers, every day is Labour Day

For country’s toilers, every day is Labour Day

KARACHI: As the world observed Labour Day, also known as May Day, the workforce here on Monday did not have a moment to rest or think about this day commemorating their hard work and sacrifices.

On the roads swept clean by sweepers, there was a joint rally taken out from Mazar-i-Quaid to the Karachi Press Club by various labour organisations to mark the day. There were politicians, lawyers, civil society activists and non-governmental organisations’ workers walking mostly with a handful of labourers and farmers who were also brought in for good measure.

Yet it seemed that in paying tribute to the workers of Chicago who offered their lives to get basic rights for labourers in 1886, the labourers and workers of the country were pretty much forgotten.

Nazeer Ahmed, a loader who lifts and carries heavy sacks full of flour the entire day on Tara Chand Road in Keamari, said that he was aware of such a day for labourers but didn’t know when it occurred. When informed that he could have information and awareness about it from television or radio, he said that he didn’t have time for that sort of thing. “I work from morning till evening. After that I go straight home, I eat and go to sleep,” he said.

He also did not know that Labour Day was a holiday. “Oh no, I wouldn’t miss work for such a day. It would mean going without my daily earnings of around Rs800. Not a chance,” he said, while taking a short breather on the steps of a shop he was unloading the flour for from a pickup truck.

“I was a poor labourer making bricks in my village. My search for better prospects brought me to Karachi. After finding work here I also brought over my wife and children. My wife used to clean houses and wash dishes until one year ago when she became unwell. Now my sons have also found work. One does denting and painting work on cars and the other is learning motorcycle repair work,” said the loader.

In a dark and dingy workshop in Shershah, there are a group of men working with hot metal and mud. “It is casting,” said the one filling cool mud around a hot mould before stepping on top of it to aid the casting process by his weight.

“We manufacture various things here such as parts for factory machines or engines,” said Shahid Ali, cleaning the moulds for casting.

On one side there is the hot chamber for melting the metal. What happens if anyone gets hurt or burns themselves during the work? “You take one or two days off and then you come back after you recover,” said Shahid.

All the men there had heard about Labour Day. “I don’t know what kind of labourers take off to celebrate May 1. We earn Rs600 daily. We certainly can’t afford to miss work like that,” Shahid added.

Twelve-year-old Maqbool assists his father with masonry work. Each day the father and son walk to Burnes Road from Hijrat Colony hoping to find work. “If we find work, we make around Rs1,200 a day,” said the boy. “And when my father is in a good mood, he also gives me about Rs500,” he added.

As a contractor in a car stopped by to gather a few manual labourers, Maqbool, too, quickly stood up hoping to be selected as his father negotiated about his work and rate with the man.

Asked if he went to a school, Maqbool shook his head. “But I go to a madressah,” he said.

Asked if he had heard about Labour Day, he shook his head and asked if it was just one day? “I work every day. Every day is Labour Day for me,” he said.

“If we took it off to celebrate our day, do you think our contractor will understand? Do you think that trains will stop coming? The work has to go on and we have to do it,” said Din Mohammad, a porter, or coolie as they are called, at the Cantonment Railway Station.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017

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