While on his way to a meeting, Pakistani labor leader, Master Khudadad Khan, was killed by a suicide bomber on October 15th. Master Khudadad was not the target of the attack, but instead he was one of several innocent civilians killed when the suicide bomber attacked an intelligence center in Peshawar.
Master Khudadad was the General Secretary of the Pakistani Workers Federation (PWF). The PFW is the single largest trade union federation in Pakistan. It consists of 419 unions and more then 880,000 workers, which represents a majority of unionized workers in Pakistan. Master Khudadad and the PWF have worked tirelessly to help promote the organization of free and independent trade unions that would improve the lives of workers throughout Pakistan.
Farooq Tariq is correct to point out the significance the BLLF has played in not only helping to raise awareness of modern slavery issues, but also in helping to free thousands of bonded laborers. Without the founding of the BLLF in 1981, the world would never have been introduced to individuals like Iqbal Masih. Iqbal spent over half is life as a child slave, in the Pakistani carpet industry, after being sold into bondage for US$16 by his parents. It was the education he received from the BLLF, after his liberation from slavery, which allowed Iqbal to receive the 1994 Reebok Youth in Action Award and become the president of the youth wing of the BLLF for his work in fighting forced child labor. Even though Iqbal was tragically killed in 1995, it was because of the efforts of the BLLF, to free and educate Iqbal, that the world was introduced to such a passionate and intelligent individual.
In addition to working with the PWF and the BLLF, Master Khudadad also was active with the Labor Party of Pakistan (LPP). As a member of the LPP, he was elected to the position of provincial information secretary in 1994 during the LPP’s founding congress. Along with being elected, he played an important role in mobilizing membership for the LPP’s founding congress in 2004. Sadly, Master Khudadad is the second member of the LPP to die in a suicide attack. Abdullah Qureshi, a senior leader of the LPP was killed in 2007.
We have become accustomed to hearing or reading stories of labor leaders, activists, and organizers who are killed or injured because of violent acts purposely committed against them. While any violence against labor leaders and workers who are simply fighting for their right to a better working environment is tragic, in many ways target violence against labor activists is easier to understand because we have the ability to more clearly point to concrete reasons for the violence and the people responsible.
In the case of Master Khudadad, we are left with many more questions then answers because he was simply an innocent bystander who was killed in country caught up in a complex military and security situation that cannot easily be rectified and understood. It is because of this complex situation that not only did Pakistan lose a strong voice in the struggle for workers rights, but so did the entire international labor community. Farooq Tariq made it clear how missed Master Khudadad will be when he wrote: “Master Khudadad was one of the very few labor leaders of the province who had organized the working class all their lives.” His work with the PWF, BLLF, and the LPP shows that this statement rings true and offers inspiration to workers and activists fighting for workers rights around the world.