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Federations at the National Level

At the time of the creation of Pakistan, there were two organizations of workers i.e. the communist All Indian Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the reformist Indian Federation of Labour (IFL). After independence these were reconstituted as the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) and the All Pakistan Labour Federation. These two federations had only 115,000 members: PTUF with 20,000 members in 38 affiliated unions (1948), concentrated in the railways and APFOL with 95,000 members in 49 unions (1949) was present in many other sectors, particularly, the port workers.

The trade union movement in Pakistan had been associated with two international federations viz., the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) formed in 1946 and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) now ITUC set up in the year 1949. The PTUF was close to the communist party and maintained close relations with the WFTU. The notable leaders of this Federation were Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Fazal Ilahi Qurban. The avowed object of this Federation was the establishment of workers’ rule in the country. This Federation soon came under the wrath of the government. President Mirza Mohammad Ibrahim was arrested in 1948 and Faiz Ahmad Faiz was charged with conspiracy, three years later. Mr. Fazal Elahi Qurban fled to Moscow. Other members of this Federation were harassed and discouraged from undertaking union activities. When the Communist Party was banned in 1954, the PTUF no longer remained an effective organization.It became dormant and managed to re-emerge in 1970.

However, due to above developments, APFOL received recognition and encouragement and with other mergers it emerged as All Pakistan Confederation of Labour (APCOL). The leadership of this Federation was in the hands of such veteran labour leaders as Dr. A. M. Malik, M. A. Khatib, Bashir Ahmad Khan Bakhtiar, Chaudry Rehmatullah, Faiz Mohammad and Aftab Ali. It was a two winged federation i.e. East Pakistan Federation of Labour and West Pakistan Federation of Labour. At the national level, Dr. A. M. Malik was the President of this Federation. He became Labour Minister in 1951 and Governor of East Pakistan in 1971. M. A. Khatib was General Secretary of the Federation. The leadership of the eastern wing of the Federation was in the hands of Aftab Ali and Faiz Mohammad, while the western wing of the Federation was in the hands of Bashir Ahmad Khan Bakhtiar and Chaudry Rehmatullah.


Led by Dr. A. M. Malik, the APCOL had 209 affiliates with 393,000 members (1951) and joined the ICFTU presently the ITUC. By the mid-1950s,APCOL was recognised as the sole representative trade union federation by the government and in 1958 it claimed 375,000 members.

Martial law of 1958-61 ended most trade union activity. The government initiated free market capitalism. APCOL started disintegrating at this stage. In 1962, dissatisfied APCOL affiliates, notably the Petroleum Workers’ Federation and the Cigarette Labour Union broke with the confederation to form the Pakistan National Federation of Trade Unions (PNFTU). This Federation was led by Mohammad Sharif and Rashid Mohammad.

Further splits in APCOL led to the loss of ICFTU affiliation. In the meantime PNFTU applied and joined ICFTU in November 1964. Each one of APCOL’s fragments claimed to be a ‘National Federation’ or ‘All Pakistan

Federation’. One more faction adopted the name – ‘All Pakistan Federation of Trade Unions’ (APFTU) and affiliated with the ICFTU in 1974. The leadership of this faction was in the hands of Bashir Ahmad Khan Bakhtiar and Khurshid Ahmad. The third faction emerged with its earlier name – ‘All Pakistan Federation of Labour’ (APFOL) and was affiliated with ICFTU in 1966. The leadership of this faction was in the hands of Rehmatullah Durrani and Chaudry Rehmatullah and later in the hands of Chaudry Talib Nawaz,Ch Nasim Iqbal and M. Zahoor Awan.

Islamic unionism also emerged. The small Pakistan Federation of Labour, created in 1960, became the National Labour Federation (NLF) in 1964 and introduced trade unionism based on fundamentalist Islamic themes. Professor Shafi Malik was its founding leader. The leadership of this Federation is presently in the hands of Hafiz Suleman Butt and Mehmood Ali Khan.

In1972, the victory of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP party brought major labour unrest. Dozens of factories were occupied, self-managementcommittees were established but there was also extensive trade union fragmentation resulting in multiplicity of trade unions. Employers were reluctantly obliged to recognize unions. However, Bhutto also created his own trade union, the Peoples’ Labour Bureau. By 1977 trade union membership reached a record one million figure.