Unrest in Garments Sector : Whose Responsibility,Whose Interest?


by Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha

Country has observed the largest garment worker uprising in Bangladesh from 22 to 24 May'06. Although this sector earns 80% of the foreign currency the laborers do not have proper employment contract, standard working hour (8 hours per day), weekend, leisure hour,!
break to drink water or pee, proper toilet facilities, medical leave etc.

Whether one likes it or not things have turned even nastier and more violent than it was 35 years ago. The well-to-do upper classes' indifference to the growing chaos and suffering of the poor much more noticeable in Bangladesh than what prevailed during the turbulent days of 1966 or 1969. It is shocking and sickening that while the deaths of five students by police firing on February 21, 1952 stirred up the entire province of East Pakistan eventually leading to the creation of Bangladesh, hundreds of deaths of unarmed civilians by law! -enforcing agencies and para-military forces during the last thirty five years, more so during the last decade or so, have hardly stirred up the polity.
The latest attacks on several garment factories in and around Dhaka city by garment factory workers, who are the most productive and most exploited, the least rewarded and appreciated sections of the poor, have made headlines. The whole country seems to be worried. The predatory, rapacious garment factory owners, who always brag as the biggest foreign exchange earners for Bangladesh have come out on the street demanding "justice" and government intervention. Any law-abiding person, including myself, would expect that the rule of law prevails rep! lacing chaos and disorder.

However, one wonders what type of "justice" and "orderly behavior" the poor garment factory workers have been getting from either the garment factory owners (who remind me of the ruthless slave owners and the colonial plantation owners of the past) or the government! Is it fair to pay around sixty US cents to a factory worker per day (NOT PER HOUR)? Are not the government and members of the civil society aware of the fact that anyone earning less than a dollar per day is living below the poverty line? Are not human rights activist in Bangladesh and abroad aware of the fact that Bangladeshi garment factory workers are much worse off than slaves in US plantations with regard to! calorie intake and not much better off with regard to freedom, leisure and human dignity?

Since the answers to the above questions ( I can raise many more embarrassing questions for the government, garment factory owners and members of the so-called civil society) ought to be in the affirmative by any one having any sense of justice, honesty and human dignity, the answer to the question, "Who is responsible for burning down of garment factories?" is that the same people who are responsible for hundreds of deaths of garment factory workers by fire in factories ! are responsible for the latest "fire works" in and around garment factories as well.

I was appalled by the quick outcry from both the government, the opposition and the garments and textiles owners blaming anarchists and conspirators from other countries for the outburst of violent protest that rocked the garments and textiles industries.

This finally showed the ocean divide between the urban that is the (so called) educated folks as well as the workers and farmers in our country. When poor people were dying demanding electricity our self-styled educated and urban class was worried about cricket!

Every single journalist and commentators were trying to protect the owners of these sweatshops in the name of saving the national export industry. I would like to know what how many of our population is directly benefited from these sweatshops and what is the percentage of GDP that comes from these sweatshops. I thought this outburst would finally bring the plight of the garment workers to the fore and something will be done to enforce some sort of law and standard for salary, working conditions and other compensation for the "Golden Girls" of our export industry.

But to my utter disgust these owners were demonstrating and lying down on the roads! I have seen how these so called owners (I am not sure if they should be called owners as most of them build these factories by usurping bank-loans and black money) treat their most valuable resource - the employees of their factories. I think Bangladesh government treated this lumpen class better than they treat the workers. I have seen with my own eyes 9 years ago how an owner of a so called factory kicked an employee so hard that the employee soiled himself. And now these owners want protection and sympathy? Garments workers from Bangladesh deserve your support.

Dhaka, Bangladesh
E mail: mohammad@marxists.org