Bangladeshi workers fight back against corrupt bosses

Bangladeshi workers fight back against corrupt bosses

15,000 Bangladeshi garment workers blockade a key highway in protest at unpaid wages. Meanwhile, bosses at the company – who supply Primark and New Look – are arrested on embezzlement charges in the country’s largest ever corruption case

The last week has seen a series of violent clashes between Bangladeshi garment workers and the police, resulting in over 250 workers being injured.

Workers at the Hallmark Group in Hemayetpur are demanding that arrears in their salaries are paid with immediate effect, and that they receive their annual ‘Eid’ bonus, which is due later this week.

Following three days of a large and noisy protest outside the factory and offices, the bosses continued to refuse to bow to the worker’s demands. Subsequently 15,000 workers blockaded a key highway route for many hours.

Violence erupted as heavily armed riot police and members of the armed forces attempted to regain control of the highway, using tear gas and rubber bullets.

In the days following the violence, the bosses have dismissed over 120 workers who they claim are militants, and who are responsible for troubles at the factory.

It must have slipped the bosses minds that it’s unpaid salaries that have sparked the dispute. A company director has been arrested within the last month on charges of embezzling $35 billion from the Sonali bank, in what is the country’s largest ever case of fraud. Charges against several other board members are pending.

The workers at the Hemayetpur factory work on average 84 hours a week for a monthly pay cheque of £19. A living wage in Bangladesh is said to be around £39 a month. Amongst other customers, they produce clothing for Primark, Zara, and New Look.

Solidarity with the Bangladeshi garment workers.

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working class s...
Oct 23 2012 13:28

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  • The workers at the Hemayetpur factory work on average 84 hours a week for a monthly pay cheque of £19. A living wage in Bangladesh is said to be around £39 a month. Amongst other customers, they produce clothing for Primark, Zara, and New Look.

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Comments

Klaus Stoertebeker
Oct 23 2012 23:57

Very interesting report. Does this involve the National Garment Workers Federation of Bagladesh? The NGWF have obviously been keenly aware of other workers struggles around the world and pictures have appeared of them showing support for workers in the Aturias and lately WallMart workers in the US. Can you point to some primary sources of info from/on the NGWF and the general situation ref workers struggles in Bangladesh. Contacts or links would be good in order to return messages of solidarity or even develop channels that may result in tangible solidarity action outside of Bangladesh.

syndicalist
Oct 24 2012 00:15
Quote:
WallMart workers in the US

I'm not sure the photo of NGWF walking with Walmart workers banner is current. I believe it's from June 2012.

Steven.
Oct 24 2012 08:54
Klaus Stoertebeker wrote:
Very interesting report. Does this involve the National Garment Workers Federation of Bagladesh? The NGWF have obviously been keenly aware of other workers struggles around the world and pictures have appeared of them showing support for workers in the Aturias and lately WallMart workers in the US. Can you point to some primary sources of info from/on the NGWF and the general situation ref workers struggles in Bangladesh. Contacts or links would be good in order to return messages of solidarity or even develop channels that may result in tangible solidarity action outside of Bangladesh.

we have huge amounts of coverage of textile workers' struggles in Bangladesh, including information on the unions there in this archive:
http://libcom.org/tags/bangladeshi-garment-workers

the vast majority of the big strikes and disputes have been wildcat strikes, not union strikes

working class s...
Oct 25 2012 15:18
Red Marriott
Oct 25 2012 18:07
Klaus wrote:
Very interesting report. Does this involve the National Garment Workers Federation of Bagladesh?

The NGWF is the Bangladeshi 'union' most visible in the West due to its periodic contacts with syndicalists in UK & US and, perhaps more importantly, its partnership with the UK NGO War On Want. Like other garment unions, it's barred by employers from functioning as a workplace representative of labour, so doesn't function as Western unions do. It's role is more similar to an NGO, giving legal advice, providing social support to workers and lobbying employers, governments & media for improved conditions. I believe they and other unions have a degree of clandestine presence in the factories, but by its nature it's hard to tell how much or of what kind. But NGWF have admitted that at high points of struggle they 'have no control over workers'. So I think the struggles there remain largely self-organised and wildcat with the 'unions' one fairly marginal part of the ferment. At times of major unrest the bosses and state call the unions in to negotiate and to reestablish 'order', promising greater union recognition, but this never been formally granted.

Quote:
"We know we have a lot of responsibilities in the wake of any unrest in the industrial sector. But, sometimes we feel helpless as we have no control over the workers," said Amirul Haque Amin, secretary general of the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). (Daily Star, Sep 14 08)" http://libcom.org/news/bangladesh-militarized-factory-visions-devouring-demons-capital-15092008
Quote:
The labour leaders who accepted the recent minimum wage deal have quickly begun to show their true colours;
"the majority appear to not even be garment workers themselves. They are reported as having been cherry-picked by the government for the negotiations. But some workers' reps were happy to give the settlement the appearance of legitimacy and to accept the offer on the workers' behalf;

Nazma Akter, president of Sammilito Garment Sramik Federation, a platform of 40,000 garment workers, welcomed the announced minimum wage at Tk 3,000 for the entry-level workers. (Daily Star, Aug 1st 2010)

Akter, a former garment worker who has gained a foothold on the career ladder of NGOs and international lobbying has previously been happy to collaborate with garment bosses and publicly lie to deny any workplace abuse of garment workers(1). The National Garment Workers Federation(2) also accepted the offer. Both Federations have condemned violent protests by garment workers and the NGWF have, absurdly, denied worker involvement. http://libcom.org/news/rage-over-wage-04082010

Yet it is reported that, as thousands of garment workers rejected the minimum wage, fought the police and state repression - and in the midst of raids on union offices and arrests of union leaders who refused to condone the miserable wage offer - the NGWF leader is happy to publicly accept the wage deal, to condemn workers' violence and (like a good union bureaucrat) to call for the arrest of workers who actively oppose the deal. The stupid claim that workers aren't involved is a lie, as proved by numerous daily media and police reports of worker unrest and arrests;

Emerging from a tripartite meeting, held at Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporters’ Association building late in the evening, National Garments Workers’ Federation convenor Amirul Huq Amin said they did not differ with the new wage structure. [...]
‘The workers are not involved in the on-going violence in the apparel industry,’ Amirul Huq told reporters after the meeting He called for identifying and punishing those involved in the recent incidents of violence. http://www.newagebd.com/2010/aug/02/front.html#3."

The NGWF has had past contact with Western anarcho-syndicalists and, more recently, the US Industrial Workers of the World. It has also worked closely with Western NGOs and charities (eg, War On Want). Despite its reputation as a more grass-roots garment workers group it is now clearly jockeying for position with rival bodies to try to 'own' the role of representation of garment labour by impressing the state with what a good cop it can be. Attempting to give validity to a starvation wage settlement and calling for state repression against militant workers and rival unions is a sign of the strength of their ambition.

http://libcom.org/library/tailoring-needs-garment-worker-struggles-bangladesh