Video: Machinists against the machine - Bangladeshi garment workers' struggles

Video: Machinists against the machine - Bangladeshi garment workers' struggles

A 15 minute video; a workforce, 85% female, paid some of the lowest wages in the world; expressing some of the highest levels of class struggle in the world at present. Trade unions have very little influence or restraint on these struggles - they are self-organised by workers on the job. When strikes turn riotous, they often spread into the wider working class community.


Part 1 illustrates aspects of slum life, factory work and the massive 2006 workers' revolt.


Part 2 shows the extent of recent clashes in the garment sector...

Videos here;
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdiWWo_008M
2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUFJYlyG8-Y

Comments

Caiman del Barrio
Feb 1 2010 19:08

Thanks...very interesting and inspiring, will forward.

Lexxi
Feb 5 2010 15:41

This was interesting. But where are the communists?

Red Marriott
Feb 5 2010 23:01

What? That's a pretty vague question. You mean politically-identified communists? AFAIK there are only tiny trotskyist and stalinist groups in Bangladesh who have little connection with workers and no influence on garment workers' struggles. But these workers' struggles have more 'communist' tendencies and potential, IMO, than the antics of most self-proclaimed 'communists'.

Lexxi
Feb 6 2010 01:03
Quote:
AFAIK there are only tiny trotskyist and stalinist groups in Bangladesh who have little connection with workers and no influence on garment workers' struggles.

Well I don’t consider them communists. There seems to me to be a lot of potential, and that a political party uniting all the garment workers with each other and other workers could be an effective force.

Quote:
But these workers' struggles have more 'communist' tendencies and potential, IMO, than the antics of most self-proclaimed 'communists'.

I agree but I’m not interested in any Trotskyist or Stalinist group, but how these workers are actually organized. Don’t you think such potential is wasted if not united behind an effective force which has clear demands to put forth? Burning factories is one thing, demanding higher wages is another as is calls for increased union presence, but I think its another stage altogether when workers begin forming their own organisations - e.g some sort of mass assembly - to put forth their demands or to seek their goals. From the video it seems that they were organized on the level of striking workers alerting other workers in nearby factories who would join, which would be v. effective if it was just several factories. But when 50,000 workers are involved new forms of organization are required to be effective, simply owing to the size, don't you think?

Yorkie Bar
Feb 6 2010 01:17

Hmm, that's a rather different question from "but where are the communists" isn't it? On the one hand, you seem to be saying "if only there was a group of self-identified communists with a good theoretical understanding of communism to propagandise the masses" and on the other "if only the workers had organised themselves into a mass meeting or communist party to articulate their demands".

Of course, both are interesting questions, but to equate the two smacks of Leninism to be honest - bringing a communist understanding of how to fight to the struggling workers through an external group of communist militants.

EDIT: Jesus fuck I just realised I called someone a Leninist over the internet.

I'm an anarchist.

Help.

Lexxi
Feb 6 2010 02:03
Quote:
On the one hand, you seem to be saying "if only there was a group of self-identified communists with a good theoretical understanding of communism to propagandise the masses"

Well, I don't think like some Trotskyists that the struggle for revolution is a struggle for the (correct) leadership, and that if only we had the correct leaders or party then our goal could be reached. But I also see organisation as a weapon.

Quote:
and on the other "if only the workers had organised themselves into a mass meeting or communist party to articulate their demands".

I would support this.

Quote:
Of course, both are interesting questions, but to equate the two smacks of Leninism to be honest - bringing a communist understanding of how to fight to the struggling workers through an external group of communist militants.

I don't think I advocated this, but nor do I think there is anything wrong with militants bringing a communist viewpoint to struggling workers when they are not part of those struggling workers (i.e. they are external). In fact, I think the fundamental aim of communists should be to unite all workers across trade and location. I don't think I have to be a Bangladeshi garment worker to point out that neither the unions nor the parliament is a step forward, which seems to be already understood by the most militant sections of these workers. If that makes me a Leninist, I'm not really concerned? IMO these sorts of situations typically organically create organizations, sometimes councils, I was asking whether there was any existence of them.

Red Marriott
Feb 6 2010 12:50
Illien wrote:
This was interesting. But where are the communists?

Sorry, but the above does not equate to this;

Quote:
IMO these sorts of situations typically organically create organizations, sometimes councils, I was asking whether there was any existence of them.

If you don't want to be accused of Leninism I suggest you express yourself more clearly. You seem to go from seeing the need for external communist influence to the need for workers self-organisation.

Quote:
Don’t you think such potential is wasted if not united behind an effective force which has clear demands to put forth? Burning factories is one thing, demanding higher wages is another as is calls for increased union presence, but I think its another stage altogether when workers begin forming their own organisations - e.g some sort of mass assembly - to put forth their demands or to seek their goals.

??Workers regularly put forth very "clear demands", they're not stupid enough to risk death from bullets for no reason. You seem to think making demands is impossible without a formal 'official' organisation - trade unionists and Leninists think the same.

Quote:
From the video it seems that they were organized on the level of striking workers alerting other workers in nearby factories who would join, which would be v. effective if it was just several factories. But when 50,000 workers are involved new forms of organization are required to be effective, simply owing to the size, don't you think?

You are equating the emergence of certain organisational forms with increased radicality - 'if there were mass assemblies'.... which can be true, but assemblies, workers councils can have conservative content and/or be set up or become dominated as manipulative instruments by 'communist' parties. Or just express the conservative limits of the working class.

I don't know enough, unfortunately, about how garment workers organise on the ground. But the existing unions have admitted they have very little influence at all. We can assume there must be some form of collective decision making on courses of action - these struggles have been going on for decades - whether it sometimes conforms to our notions of assembly or not I don't have a clue. I agree that struggles need to develop their form and content - but am wary of projecting onto them simple prescriptions based on very different cultural and historical experience.

Mark.
Feb 6 2010 14:34
Illien wrote:
This was interesting. But where are the communists?


There's the National Garment Workers Federation, although Ret has been critical of them in previous discussions and they only represent about 23,000 out of two million garment workers. I don't know what kind of view they take of the riots and the burning of factories - or whether these were completely independent of the unions.

Solfed article from 1996
Interview from 2009

And on youtube

Interview with NGWF president Shahida Sarkar
The NGWF and Primark
Interview with an NGWF member

gypsy
Feb 6 2010 14:32

thanks for this. Very interesting. I read the solfed article from 1996 but will give the others a look.

Red Marriott
Feb 6 2010 14:47

But the NGWF is not communist - either in self-identity or stated goals. They seem to be the most grass roots union, closest to garment workers. But even they admit they have little influence over actual workers' struggles;

Quote:
Dozens of trade unions in the readymade garment (RMG) sector are hardly in any position to resolve recurrent labour unrests, as they have no control over workers at factory level due to inactivity of most workers' unions, observed trade union leaders.
According to some leaders, at present there are more than 28 registered trade unions and more than 13 unregistered trade unions in the RMG sector.
Of the 200 registered workers' union units at factory level, only 15 or so are active, the trade union leaders claimed.
As a result, the central trade union leaders do not have any proper means of intervention in the wake of any labour unrest, although the leaders are meant to play a major role in resolving labour unrest.
During the recent incidents of unrest, garment workers attacked many factories, but the trade union leaders could not communicate with the workers due to the absence of active workers' union units.
[...]
"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

They seem to function more like an NGO; providing legal training and advice, lobbying governments for legal improvements etc.

And the relations with the IWW were afaik over a decade ago, consisting of a visit and some correspondence for a year or so. This led to them being mistakenly described by some as an anarcho-syndicalist union. As I understand, they never joined the IWW, IWA or similar.

Steven.
Feb 8 2010 15:19

I believe they made an application to join the IWA, but this was refused as they were not anarchosyndicalists

Mark.
Feb 8 2010 16:23

I don't think they applied to join in the end - although I may be wrong about this. Presumably there's still some kind of contact with both the IWW and the IWA - the photo in my previous post is from this year, as is this.

How much you can read into it is another question - most likely giving support to FAU is a case of showing solidarity to people who have supported the NGWF in the past. I'm sure they wouldn't call themselves anarcho-syndicalists. I'd guess that the more active members would call themselves Communists of some kind - although again I could be wrong about this.

Steven.
Feb 8 2010 16:51

this probably isn't the right place for this discussion - but that "photo" looks photo shopped to me...

Red Marriott
Feb 8 2010 20:24

JH's 1st pic comes from this article about the Martin Luther King commemoration day organised at the NGWF HQ in Dhaka; http://www.iww.org/en/node/4931
There's some horribly liberal stuff from the IWW in there;

Quote:
Members of the Pittsburgh Anti Sweatshop Community Alliance worked with Erik Davis of the Twin Cities IWW and asked the US Ambassador to Bangladesh to open the doors to the Embassy and host this MLK Day celebration. Both Pennsylvania Senators, Specter and Casey, confirmed that they had made formal requests of the Embassy to do so. We are grateful that they did so.
Quote:
The end result was an Embassy representative attending the MLK Day celebration at the National Garment Workers Federation offices. We are building a Civil Rights Bridge from Pittsburgh to the floor of the global sweatshop and we will need the help of our Senator again in the future.

They have both demonstrated a concern for Human Rights and a willingness to work with the Pittsburgh Anti Sweatshop Community Alliance on specific initiatives such as these.
[...]
The program was held on 20 January 2010 at the NGWF offices in Dhaka. Thanks to the hard work of [IWW]FWs in the US, the night’s participants also included the Human Rights officer at the US Embassy in Dhaka, David Arulanantham, who attended and gave remarks on behalf of the US government supporting the program.

So realpolitik kicks the IWW's 'the working class and the employing class have nothing in common' well and truly out the window.

Quote:
the stories of his [MLK] struggles and his use of non-violent direct action were also an inspiration to workers and many parallels between King’s work and the ongoing struggle here were clearly present and felt by everyone in the room.

So advocating pacifist tactics rather than the militant struggles the garment workers actually often use.

Quote:
After the program, Amin, Mr. Arulanantham, and my self[IWW rep] met with the Bangladesh Undersecretary of Labor in Amin’s office. There was a good discussion of some of the problems with labor law enforcement and repression in Bangladesh. We also discussed having another meeting with Mr. Arulanantham in the future, which he was completely open to.

So now the IWW is functioning as an NGO lobbyist of Bangladeshi and US government officials. Nothing remotely radical in any of this.

Quote:
it definitely built a stronger alliance between IWW and the NGWF.

I.e., crude reformism is unashamedly necessary for recruitment drives?

Some of the things the NGOs do for them may even be of some benefit to garment workers, and the IWW has independently organised benefits for NGWF - but I can't see what the class-collaborationist NGO tactics have to do with the supposed revolutionary aims of the IWW.

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2010 20:34

well you can either be "for all workers" or you can have revolutionary principles, but you can't do both. but that's another thread.

Red Marriott
Feb 8 2010 20:37

But the IWW could still give support to garment workers without replicating/interacting with NGO-type tactics.

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2010 21:30

Yes it could, but it rejects the idea of political membership criteria, and is internally democratic, so it's no surprise they come out with less-than-revolutionary statements.

In the UK at least you only need to confirm you're a worker and will "study" the aims/constitution, not even agree with them, which leaves the preamble as a bit of a historical relic.

Red Marriott
Feb 8 2010 21:36

OK, I see what you're getting at now.

Mark.
Feb 8 2010 22:32
Steven wrote:
this probably isn't the right place for this discussion - but that "photo" looks photo shopped to me...

Why would garment workers want to photoshop a banner rather than make one?

Red Marriott
Feb 9 2010 01:06

But to make a banner like that seems a massive waste of effort - as 99.9% of garment workers won't read English or know what the issue is about. I very much doubt it would be used for more than that photo.

Mark.
Feb 9 2010 01:22

That sounds quite possible.

There's another IWW article here which at least has more to say about the NGWF than the IWW.
http://sisyphuspeak.blogspot.com/2007/07/bangladesh-national-garment-workers.html