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New Campus Visit of Ittefaq Union President Altaf Baloch

Fayyaz Baqir

January 11th, 2017

 

 

NSO also has to its credit the first event organized for the visit and speech of prominent trade union leader of Ittefaq Foundaries Altaf Baloch at new campus. Altaf  was pioneer of trade union activity in Kot Lakhpat Factory Area. He took the courageous step of forming trade union to oppose the tyranny of Ittefaq Foundries owners. Earlier efforts to form a trade union at Ittefaq had failed as according to some accounts factory owners had burnt a worker alive in the furnace. I am not sure about the truth of this account but this image was good enough to strike terror in the hearts of factory workers; and it took extra courage to mobilize, organize and protest under these circumstances. As factory owners were supported by the local administration and hired the services of local goons, forming a union at Ittefaq was a daunting task. Yahya Khan’s military government was in power and workers did not expect to get justice in case of dispute with the owners. Our purpose of inviting Altaf to new campus was to hear firsthand the stories of horror and rebellion in the industrial area and learn about the efforts that workers were making to demand their rights. The purpose was to show the university students the world of reality different from the rosy picture presented in the books. It was also meant to start building solidarity between the students and working class.

Altaf Baloch’s lecture was arranged in a hall booked at Student Teacher Centre (STC). Narration of events taking place at Ittefaq, warmed the blood of participants and laid the foundation for close student-workers’ alliance in Lahore’s politics. This collaboration scaled greater heights when NSO’s student leader Tariq Latif started working with Packages Factory Union and organized a formidable alliance of trade unions in Lahore known as Muttahida  Mazdoor Mahaz (Joint Labour Front in English) housed at Mazdoor Markaz (Workers’ Centre). Trade Union work was led by Professor Khalid Mahmood and I attended many meetings of activists at Lokhpat in Professor’s company. Soon Professor Group built a network of trade union partners at Ferozpur Road, Multan Road, Ravi Road, G.T. Road, 7 Up factory area Gulberg, Model Town and Garhi Shahoo.

Tariq Latif, Khwaja Tariq Masood, Asghar Ali Shirazi , Mohammad Rafi, Zahid Islam, Sufi Mushtaq, Islam and many other student activists worked under the leadership of Professor Khalid Mahmood and Professor Nawaz. Khwaja Tariq Masood also made inroads in WAPDA. Railway Workers Union was under Mirza Ibrahim and PIA perhaps under Tufail Abbas Group. Public meetings, processions and rallies became common form of student worker alliance in the coming days. One Worker’s Centre was established at Chungi Amar Sdhu and another at Royal Park near Diyal Singh Chowk. This collaboration continued through NSO’s informal support to PPP candidates in 1970 elections and formal participation in major public rallies. On May Day 1970 big workers rallies joined by huge crowds of PPP workers caused concern among right wing parties. On June 5, 1970 Jama’at Islami carried out big processions all over Pakistan and named it as Youm e Shaukat e Islam ( A day for celebrating the glory of Islam) to show its power. PPP and left wing student organizations and trade unions held a counter rally to show full force of opposition to use of Islam for supporting the Status Quo.   

Tariq Ali Khan had earlier made visit to several cities in Pakistan. Some processions were also carried out on his arrival. He carried the aura of a charismatic and heroic figure among progressive youth. During a big procession at the Mall some youngsters spotted Tariq Latif and were not sure if he was Tariq Ali or someone else. Tariq heard them whispering among themselves and did not show that he was listening to them. As expected, they asked him what his name, “Tariq”, replied Tariq Latif. It confirmed their guess. They lifted him on their shoulders all the way from Regal Chowk to Charing Cross, raising slogans and paying glowing tributes to ‘Tariq’.

It is so sad that due to split caused between the left groups due to Sino-Soviet differences, cracks started appearing in the workers’ movement as well. Due to his affiliation with National Awami Party (NAP), Altaf Baloch was labelled as a revisionist and agent of Soviet Social Imperialism. PG tried to isolate him in the trade union movement and he was nominated in the FIR registered against the assassins of labour leader Abdur Rehman. It was extremely stressful and heart breaking moment for him; a trade union leader being accused of participating in the murder of a comrade. During his trial I met him in the Camp Jail when I went to meet Zubair Shah. He had known me from the early days of NSO and wanted my support to help resolve the issues. It was heart breaking to see him under so much distress caused by unfair accusations against him. Things changed later and he was cleared of the charges. It was very heartening to see him released from the jail. The last time I talked to him on phone was during Yusuf Raza Gilani’s government when he was given award at Prime Minister House in recognition of his services. My wife was organizing the ceremony and he wanted to track down his invitation card. I could feel the love and warmth in his voice and recall the days when we met first time and raised together the slogan “Taqat Ka Sarchashma Kon- Talib Ilm, Mazdoor Kissan”.    

 

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