Mahmood Butt

The last “baba” I met was Mahmood Butt Sahab. He is known for his deadly work in his circle. He does all the field work and has a lot of experience in it. I found him more like a practical guy rather than intellectual. When I interviewed him, he talked to me in very detailed manner. This meant that sometimes we got off the topic which was good for me personally, but not for my documentation. What happened then was that as we talked about people working at the Bhatta (brick kiln) and their environment, I decided to go to his Bhatta and see what kind of politics he is trying to pursue. I went near Wahga with my Friend on a bike. I found him to have great leadership qualities amongst the workers which I didn’t expect by observing him in office meetings. He was way more confident in that heat than in office.

Butt Sahab started politics as a child labour student activist in the era of PPP and is currently working as the General Secretary of the Bhatta Mazdoor Union of Punjab. He initially started working as a motor mechanic and later on worked for Ittefaq foundary, in the absence of any labor laws to protect the labourers. He joined the trade union in 1988. The union was called People Inquilabi Union. He was tortured in 1994 by the sons of Barkat Sharif following the union’s streak of pressurizing and closing factories to ensure that workers get their wages. The union filed cases at NRIC but nothing happened. In this time, he was also introduced to the Jadojehed party and met the likes of Farooq Tariq, Dr. Amjad Javedpuria. He later on served as the Vice Chairman Lahore in the Labor Party. In 2002, he started Pakistan Bhatta Union which was not registered even Supreme Court and Sharia Court had ruled in favor of them. Thus, the union was registered at Punjab Level and he is still working there.

What makes Mahmood Sahab special in all this discussion is the fact that he, in his young days, was a Bhatta worker himself. Now he serves as the General Secretary of the union. “This slavery is spread over generation. You can see both the traditional and modern face of oppression here. The workers watch TV, use mobile phones, but there are no toilets for them, they don’t have houses, schools or a reasonable salary. One can’t even stand in these houses. The owners still have the old behavior: they think they are the owners of humanity,” Mahmood Sahab said. He has participated in major movements for the empowerment and improvement of working conditions. His struggle has helped the workers get their identity cards, to reduce torture, and to improve the consciousness of the skilled Bhatta worker that, he believes, can’t be found everywhere and has a special value in the market. He also shared a special detail regarding the Bhatta worker and his financial conditions. He told, “In Bhai Pheru, the worker was only given a slip of Rs. 300. He used to show the slip to the shop to get the necessary things to go home, cook and eat. This still happens. He was, moreover, made to work for special bricks. He deserved a daily wage of around Rs. 3900 but only had to survive on the Rs. 300 slip. The worker never even got to see money, let alone using it. This is the kind of oppression that we have tried to fight.”

He further said that after the fall of Soviet Union, politics for the workers has become more difficult which requires the student to take active part in reviving it. “There is a lot of despair in this work. The trade union tried to encourage more people to join and work with them. There is a gap of 20-25 years in the politics of the left. The new blood needs to join,” he remarked.

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