As is often the case, no safety measures had been respected by the bosses for whom only profit counts: windows barred, emergency exits locked, few or no or no fire extinguishers, doors and stairs blocked by goods, highly flammable products in all corners, packing in of staff and so on. Fires are common in these factories, but no authority cared... until the tragedy.
For Nasir Mansoor, Secretary-General of Pakistan’s National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), in Pakistan “workers are treated more like slaves than human beings” . During a street demonstration on September 12, the NTUF demanded a strict inspection of plants in coordination with organizations representing the employees, the registration of all industrial establishments under the Factories Act, the effective implementation of laws on health and safety, the abolition of the contract system, the issuing of a letter of hire to everyone at the time of their hiring and their inclusion in social protection systems .
What does the life of a worker matter to the wealthy? As Farooq Tariq, of the Labour Party (LPP) bitterly noted, if members of the elite had died in such a manner, the government would have declared a day of national mourning. Asif Zardari, president of Pakistan and co-chair of the ruling PPP, made a very brief visit to the Lahore hospital where victims of the fire at the shoe company had been taken, to the plant and to the families. He went after having promised compensation, and had, according to the press, given flowers to five hospitalized workers.
The tragedy has become an excuse for a polemical dispute between the two competing parties of the elite, each accusing the other of negligence: the People’s Party (PPP) which governs the province of Punjab (where the shoe factory was located) and the Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif (PLM - N) in Sindh (where the clothing company was located). In truth, in neither province was the inspection of enterprises authorized. Such inspections had been banned under the Musharaff dictatorship and this prohibition has only been formally lifted in Punjab (not in Sindh) after the death of 27 employees on January 4, 2012, at a pharmaceutical company in Lahore. However, the lifting of the ban did not mean authorization .
Charged (how could it be avoided?), the criminal bosses were immediately released on bail. They have sought refuge in Larkana bench, the hometown of the Bhutto family, which heads the PPP and, today, the country. The class injustice is obvious when we know that, for defending the rights of loom workers, trade union leaders in Faisalabad were each sentenced to 99 years in prison under anti-terrorism laws. “Not a single person”, notes Farooq Tariq, “has accepted any responsibility of this great tragedy and no minister or adviser or any state bureaucrat has resigned. It shows a complete collapse of morality of the ruling class in Pakistan” .
In Pakistan, popular anger is great. Various trade union federations, notably, called for a “black day” on September 15, as well as political parties: the Awami Party of Pakistan (APP), Workers Party (WPP) Pakistan, Pakistan Peoples Party (Shaheed Bhutto PPP). At Lahore, this appeal was launched at a press conference held on September 13 at the Press Club.
On September 15, in the great textile centre of Faisalabad, most businesses were closed due to strikes. United events, bringing together trade unions and left parties, took place, notably in Islamabad, Lahore, Hyderabad and Karachi.
On the international level the IndustriALL Global Union (IGU) federation and LabourStart immediately organized a protest campaign . They joined Pakistani trade unions demanding wage compensation from the government of five million rupees for the families of the workers who were killed, and two million rupees for injured workers and the maintenance of the wages of the workers. The unions also asked the Government to arrest employers and charge them with murder. They are demanding sanctions against the Ministry of Labour and government authorities who have failed to ensure the safety and health of these workers. A petition is open online to support these demands. 
In a letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the IGU, wrote: “The 2010 Pakistan Labour policy has among its objectives the following: Just and humane conditions of work be guaranteed to all workers. We very much would like to see this be finally applied to the garment and shoe-making workers in Pakistan who constitutes 30 per cent of the workers in the country and who have some of the most inhumane working conditions” .
The labour movement and left-wing parties are bringing together their forces so that the guilty employers do not escape justice and safety measures are finally imposed on industrialists. Thus in Karachi - where the most deadly fire took place - a new movement was formed: the Workers Right Movement (WRM). To this end, on September 22 more than 70 representatives of trade union federations, enterprise union sections, territorial agencies operating in the industrial areas, left parties, youth, student, and women’s organizations, social workers, and human rights activists, as well as individuals, gathered . A rally was announced for September 29.
It is, obviously, not just in Pakistan that such tragedies occur. On May 10, 1993, Thailand experienced one of its worst industrial fires. It destroyed the Kader toy factory, leaving 188 dead and more than 500 injured, some remaining victims with disabilities for life (some paralyzed) after having jumped out of the second, third and fourth floors of the building. Asian Food Worker, the newsletter of the IUF  Asia Pacific, described the working conditions in this company, which recall those of Pakistan: “minimum wages were the norm, overtime was compulsory, work often extended late into the evening and amenities were lacking” .
According to this article published on the 18th of July 2007 by the Asia Pacific secretariat of the IUF , through a rather complicated business and family links network, the Group Charoen Pokphand (CP) - a major transnational - owned 80% of the Kader toy factory. After intense mobilization, it had to pay compensation to the victims of the fire and their families. The Thai Government for its part had to undertake to strengthen health and safety regulation. Ten years later, however, nothing has changed. Which did not prevent CP from participating in 2003 at a conference in Sweden entitled “Human rights and economic relations”. 
These tragedies reveal the extreme contempt with which the ruling classes deal with ordinary people in these countries; but this was also the case in Europe before the struggles for social protection and a modification of cultures. This is a question on which the international labour movement must act with even more force.