Karachi labour unrest of 1972

In 1972, Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, witnessed major labour unrest in its industrial areas of S.I.T.E Industrial Area and Korangi-Landhi. Several protesting workers were killed or injured by police during this period. In a number of cases, workers briefly occupied their factories.


Under military rule of Ayub Khan, the industrial class had given free rein and working class suffered. Labour activists were arrested and tried in military courts and trade unions were curbed.[1] Uprising of workers and students during 1968 movement in Pakistan toppled Ayub Khan and power was took over by Yahya Khan.[2] The military regime continued to repress the working class movement and tried to prevent strikes and lockouts. Around 45,000 workers in Karachi alone were retrenched during Yahya Khan's tenure (1969-1971).[3] Labour militancy increased as new regime of Pakistan Peoples Party installed on 20 December 1971.[1] Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's initial anti-industrialist and socialists agenda encouraged a sense of elation among workers. They intensified their demands and during first months of 1972, whole country engulfed with periodic lockouts and encirclement of industries.[4] Among them notable struggles were "Emergence of a worker-led court under Abdur Rehman" in Kot Lakhpat[5] and Karachi labor unrest 1972.

Although Bhutto introduced labour laws for the welfare of workers and their families however in reality legislation at the time was the real cause of damage to labour and trade union movement.[3] He effectively repressed trade unions and students' movement effectively and gradually these movements were taken over by right-wing. In order to divide the movement, Bhutto even tried to form his own trade union by the name of the Peoples Labour Federation.[6] Even Bhutto went too far to justify his ruthless action against industrial workers by propagating that these unions had foreign agents working to destabilize the country. He also threatened the workers of the country that if they did not end their protest, “the strength of the street will be met by the strength of the state."[7]


From January 1972, strikes and lockouts in Karachi became routine.[1] Workers started occupying their factories and an important takeover was of Dawood Mills Karachi, which was led by Aziz-ul-Hasan and Riaz Ahmed.[8] According to official estimates during five months between January and May 150 factories were encircled. Even newspapers carried threats of factories closures from industrialists if this labour unrest did not stop. Desperate appeals were made to the President of Pakistan to intervene.[9] During this period workers were brutally killed, put into jail and shameful tactics were employed at police stations where trade union activists were allegedly sexually assaulted.[3]

The unrest began on 6 June 1972 with workers protest at Feroz Sultan Mills[8] located at SITE Town. On 7 June, workers encircled factory demanding for their wages and their share of the workers' participatory fund.[4] Being unhappy with the unity of labour at the time, the State ordered a shootout on peaceful protestors.[6] Police started firing on the workers and three workers killed.[6] Among casualties was a leading figure of Muttahida Mazdoor Federation Shoaib Khan, next morning workers from all industrial estates of the city gathered at Khan's funeral which turned into a procession.[10] This procession of workers began from Benaras Chowk and at the crossroads, police opened fire as marchers walked onto the main road killing ten workers and injuring dozens. These events triggered a mass workers' strike and over 900 units were closed. Nearly, in all factories of Karachi red and black flags raised.[4] This strike had paralyzed all industrial zones and in 12 days of strike factories' production reduced to half.[11] This strike finally ended on 18 June when a tribunal was set up by a High court judge with objectives to take action against responsible. However, a brutal repression of workers followed and 1200 were arrested and put into Karachi Jail.[12]

Again this same episode repeated at Landhi Town, when striking workers occupied mills and refused to resume work, on 18 October the police and military used bulldozers to break factory walls and firing upon workers. Army supervised and ensured that workers were back to work and 100 workers killed.[13] Dawn (newspaper) of 19 October 1972 reported incident in following words;

“The conflict in Landhi started over wage demands in a government run machine tool factory. The protest spread to neighbouring textile mills and finally paramilitary forces literally bulldozed their way into a mill. Four persons were killed in the firing that took place.[14]

A trade unionist Karamat Ali in an interview described movement's reasons in following words;

Both these incidents took place under Bhutto’s government. He was sworn in as prime minister on December 19, 1971 and on February 10, 1972, he announced a labour policy which the trade unions rejected, because they expected much more, given his election campaign promises. People were getting impatient, which is why they mobilised in large numbers prompting Bhutto to use force.[12]


The next years of Bhutto regime saw these scenes repeated throughout country and there was no industrial zone of Pakistan, where workers didn't suffer crackdowns, State occupation of trade unions and massacres of workers' militant leaders.[15] Notably Karachi's movement leader Bawar Khan was brutally tortured in jail, Tufail Abbas imprisoned and Meraj Muhammad Khan was tortured and lost much of his eyesight.[13] The State further repressed trade movement in country through amending labour laws through a Presidential order in October 1974. This ordinance received much acclamation from industrial class as it allowed them to crush unions.[16] This labour movement slow down by 1975 because all union were implicated in several cases.[12] In 1977, Bhutto regime was overthrown by Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, which unleashed new attacks on working class and Zia era remained darkest period in trade union history of Pakistan.[17]


The Benaras Chowk was renamed as Shaheed Chowk (Matyr's Square) by workers and in late 1980s it was renamed as Bacha Khan Chowk.[4] A Shaheed Mazdoor Yadgari Committee has been setup which holds various public meeting to commemorate martyr workers.[18] At graveyard of SITE area a memorial monument has been constructed with "Mazdoor Shaheed" words inscribed on it.[18][19]


  1. ^ a b c "Lessons of history | ePaper | DAWN.COM". epaper.dawn.com. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  2. ^ Bellingham, Justen. "The 1968-9 Pakistan Revolution: a students' and workers' popular uprising". marxistleftreview.org. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  3. ^ a b c "Labour: The Unkindest Cut". Newsline. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  4. ^ a b c d "Strength of the street: Karachi 1972 - Kamran Asdar Ali". libcom.org. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  5. ^ Malik, Anushay (July 2018). "Public Authority and Local Resistance: Abdur Rehman and the industrial workers of Lahore, 1969–1974". Modern Asian Studies. 52 (3): 815–848. doi:10.1017/S0026749X16000469.
  6. ^ a b c www.zaa.cc, Zaa Normandin. "Labour Movement in Pakistan". Alternatives International. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  7. ^ Humayun, Siddique (2011-07-18). "Labour movement in Pakistan". DAWN.COM. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  8. ^ a b Khan, Lal. "Pakistan's Other Story: 6. Witness to Revolution – Veterans of the 1968-69 upheaval". www.marxist.com. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  9. ^ Khan, Iqbal (1972). "From Pathan Colony to a Workers' State". Pakistan Forum. 2 (11): 4–8. doi:10.2307/2568979. JSTOR 2568979.
  10. ^ "Fallen heroes of 1972 labour crusade honoured". Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  11. ^ "Frontier, Pathan colonies on Karachi's map, but not on authorities' minds". Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  12. ^ a b c ""Dividing workers along party lines has a negative impact on the unions." Karamat Ali". Newsline. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  13. ^ a b "Pakistan: Bloody Origins of the Z.A. Bhutto Regime". www.icl-fi.org. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  14. ^ Khan, Lal. "Pakistan's Other Story: 7. War and Reformism – Lessons of a Derailed Revolution". www.marxist.com. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  15. ^ "The Legacy of Bhutto". Economic and Political Weekly. 13 (13): 574–578. 1978. JSTOR 4366485.
  16. ^ Khan, Lal. "Pakistan's Other Story: 7. War and Reformism – Lessons of a Derailed Revolution". www.marxist.com. Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  17. ^ "Muzaffargarh police claim busting inter-provincial dacoits gang". Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  18. ^ a b "The courageous crusaders who refused to bow down". Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  19. ^ "Tributes paid to martyrs of 1972 labour movement in Karachi".

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