Bangladeshi Police Attack Garment Workers’ Protest


By K. Ratnayake

21 May, 2013
WSWS.org

Police fired rubber bullets on tens of thousands of protesting Bangladeshi garment workers in the Ashulia industrial belt near Dhaka yesterday, injuring at least fifty.

Workers were protesting to demand higher wages and safe working conditions. They were also demanding the death penalty for the owner of the Rana Plaza clothing factory that collapsed on April 24, killing 1,127 garment workers, according to official figures.

Police sources said 20,000 workers joined the protest yesterday, blocking the main highway in Ashulia. Ashulia is the hub of Bangladesh’s garment industry, where 300 factories are located, producing thirty percent of the country’s garment exports.

Workers are demanding a $US100 monthly basic wage. They now receive a paltry monthly wage of $37, the world’s lowest pay for garment workers.

Ashulia workers have continuously mounted protests since the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in the nearby Savar area. Workers organised demonstrations demanding pay hikes, benefits and workplace security.

Though permission had only been granted to build a five-storey building, the Rana Plaza owner illegally added three more floors. Five factories were located in the building. Though cracks were appearing on the walls on the previous day, the building owner insisted it was safe and factory owners compelled workers to go to production lines. Beyond the huge death toll, over 2,000 workers have been maimed for life from this disaster.

Terrible working conditions are not limited to Rana Plaza but are rampant in all garment factories. Despite the Rana Plaza factory collapse, US-based apparel maker VF Corp. confirmed that work is continuing at Liz Apparels, one of its Bangladeshi suppliers, even though a May 12 factory inspection found cracks in the Liz Apparel building. Liz Apparel makes Wrangler shirts for VF, whose brands include North Face, Timberland, and Nautica.

After a four-day shutdown starting Monday of last week, garment factories reopened on Friday. Factory management told workers they would be paid for Friday work because it was holiday but that they would not be paid for other days on the basis of “no work no pay.” This further angered the workers.

Prior to opening the factories, the owners and ministers including Labour and Employment Minister Rajiudin Ahmed and union leaders met and discussed how to control the workers. Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) president Atiqul Islam said, “The government assured us of all assistance of maintaining law and order in the factories.”

After the disaster, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other government leaders feigned sympathy towards the workers. However, by deploying the police to crack down on protests yesterday, the government has shown that it will seek to ruthlessly suppress opposition among workers.

The deaths in to the building collapse have exposed the super-exploitation of the working class in the Bangladesh garment industry. Only six months before, in November, a fire at the Tazreen factory burned 112 workers to death.

The chief responsibility for poverty wages, unsafe conditions and suppression of democratic rights lies with the western clothing retail transnationals. In the face of growing militancy among workers, the retailers’ main concern is how to maintain Bangladesh as a cheap labour platform. They are extracting 60 to 80 percent profit margins from the garment trade, demanding that Bangladeshi factory owners and businesses keep wages at rock-bottom levels.

After the exposure of the disastrous conditions that they have played the key role in creating, the retail giants are moving into damage control mode.

The international trade unions have come forward to support them. The Swiss based UNI Global Union, the IndustriALL Union and several NGOs took an initiative with German officials to discuss a fire and building safety accord with European retail giants such as Carrefour, Benetton, Marks & Spencer, PVH and Calvin Klein. They are promising to spend a paltry sum of US$60 million over the next five years to improve factory conditions. They have also agreed to make periodic inspections of safety conditions.

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer company, Gap and several other US companies have opposed even this completely inadequate agreement, saying that if they signed such an agreement, they would be vulnerable to legal action.

Some companies are also seeking to shift production to other locations, leaving Bangladesh so as to escape scrutiny of the deadly sweatshop conditions upon which they rely. In an interview with the Financial Times, Karl Johan Persson, the CEO of the Hennes & Mauritz (H&M), said that the company is looking for locations in Central and South America or in Africa.

The Hasina government faces a massive political crisis as working class opposition deepens. It is desperately trying to deflect discontent among workers and maintain cheap labour conditions. About 3.7 million workers, mostly young women, work in garment factories. Bangladesh has become the world’s second biggest garment manufacturer after China, deriving 80 percent of its export income from garment exports.

The Hasina government and the BGMEA are terrified that workers’ unrest could result in the cancellation of orders or in retailers withdrawing from Bangladesh.

Last week, in an attempt to buy time, the Bangladeshi government announced the formation of a panel to make recommendations on salary increases for workers. The workers were told to wait until this committee made its proposals.

It also proposed possible changes to labour laws, such as allowing the formation of trade unions. Allowing trade unions in the garment sector would be a shift of government policy, reflecting the view that unions will help control workers and to keep low wage conditions in line with the requirements of garment manufacturers and retailers. In Bangladesh as in every country, the ruling elite is well aware of the trade unions’ role in thwarting working class struggles.

Retailers, manufacturers, and the Bangladeshi government’s main concern is the unrest building up inside the working class. The New York Times commented, “Garment manufacturing makes up a fifth of the economy in Bangladesh and four-fifths of its exports, which means that one of the world’s poorest, most densely populated countries is desperately dependent on continued export orders to stave off soaring unemployment and possibly further political unrest.”

 

Bangladesh: Testimony of 24 year old Survivor Morium Begum, Her Right Arm was Amputated #Vaw


MAY 6, 2013  | globallabourrights.org

Death Toll Reaches 665 at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh

The death toll at the Rana Plaza building has reached 665 as of Monday morning U.S. Eastern Time.  To date, less than 50 percent of the rubble from the collapsed building has been removed—meaning that many more bodies are likely to be recovered.

The stench of death is everywhere.  Many bodies are decomposed beyond recognition and workers are being identified through their ID cards and clothing.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is now admitting they did not have a comprehensive list of the workers in the five factories housed in the Rana Plaza building.  Now, no one knows how many workers were in the building when it collapsed.

 

Testimony of Ms. Morium Begum

“It is because of the ugly greed of the owners who forced us to work on April 24, forcing us into death at Rana Plaza. We demand justice as so many lives have been lost and so many others seriously injured and maimed. I wish it never happens again!

“How will I be able to bring up my kids? How will I buy food for them? How will they go to school?”

“I worked as a sewing operator for three years at the New Wave Style factoryon the 7th floor of the Rana Plaza building. The building had developed cracks and we were scared that it might break apart. But we were forced to enter the factory as they [management] threatened to withhold our wages [for the full month] if we didn’t work that day. Just after an hour, the factory caved in with a loud bang. It collapsed as heavy generators shook the floor. I was sitting on a stool sewing the garments. In a few seconds everything broke apart and my sewing machine fell on my right arm. Immediately a big slab from a concrete pillar fell on the machine and my arm. My right arm was crushed and trapped between the sewing machine and the concrete pillar. I tried to pull my arm out but I couldn’t. It was dark inside. Many of my co-workers were also trapped and screaming out, calling for Allah to save our lives. I had no idea where I was after the collapse.

 

“The rescue team pulled me out of the ruins at 8:30 a.m. on April 25, after spending 24 hours in a living grave. The medical team took me to the Combined Military Hospital at SavarThe doctor amputated my right arm at 8:30 p.m. on April 25. I was in a great deal of pain. I was shifted to the orthopedic hospital on that same day due to complications. I have been at the hospital since then. I still have pain where the concrete pillar hit me.

“It is clear that I will not be able to lead a normal life. How will I be able to bring up my kids? How will I buy food for them? How will they go to school? My daughter is in the third grade and my son in nursery school. They will have to stop their education as I won’t be able to afford to send them to school.

“Who is to blame for this cursed life? My hands were always busy sewing garments but now it all comes to an end. Everything has stopped. I never imagined such a tragedy. My life is worthless now. It is because of the ugly greed of the owners who forced us to work on April 24, forcing us into death at Rana Plaza. We demand justice as so many lives have been lost and so many others seriously injured and maimed. I wish it never happens again!”

source- http://www.globallabourrights.org/

 

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