It is Saturday, October 6th, 8:30 AM and members of the Workers’ Rights Movement in Pakistan are out front of the City Court in Karachi, protesting to make sure that bail is not granted again to the owners of the garment factory Ali enterprises, where 289 workers died on September 11th in the deadliest factory fire in history to date.
The owners have been granted bail three times already, on September 14, on September 21, and on October 1: catastrophic kicks in the stomach to efforts of trade unions, labor rights activists and factory workers, and families of victims to hold the owners responsible for atrocious conditions that led to the fires, and properly mourn the deaths of their friends, coworkers and family. So today workers and family members are out in numbers, bearing pictures of the dead and signs demanding justice. They are making sure that this does not happen again. Already in the early morning there is a small victory: all major news channels have broken the news about the demonstration outside of the courthouse.
Then at 4:30 pm, the order to arrest is announced. Bail has been denied for Arshad and Sahid Baila, two of the three owners! Only Abdul Aziz Bhaila, co-owner and father, is granted bail due to deteriorating health.
This is a major victory for the Workers’ Rights Movement, in a country where too often worker’s voices are left at best unheard, and are more often maliciously disregarded. It is a step towards holding the right people accountable for atrocious labor rights abuses, and recognizing, respecting, and valuing the dignity of the Pakistani garment worker.
But the struggle is far from over. And neither are the protests. On Saturday, October 20, in observation of a Muslim tradition of holding a ritual to remember the deceased forty days after their deaths, the Workers’ Rights Movement has planned a mass gathering outside of Ali Enterprises to pay respect to the workers, and to reaffirm their dedication to the struggle for just and safe working conditions. The International Labor Rights Forum stands in solidarity with the families of the fire victims and the injured workers, and continues to support the demands of the unions.
Hanna Claeson is an intern at the International Labor Rights Forum.