Labour unrest continues in diverse areas, including rock mining and the garment industry.
The garment industry
In the Ready Made Garment (RMG) sector, regular outbursts of wildcat strikes, riots, roadblocks and attacks on factories continue...
Kanchpur area, Narayanganj District, central Bangladesh - Tuesday, May 25th; fierce clashes occurred between police and garment workers; at 5.15pm workers left factories and began demonstrating, barricading the main Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Chittagong highways. A police box was set on fire and several vehicles attacked. As police arrived, workers threw bricks - cops replied with baton charges and shotgun fire to regain control. 50 people were injured, including 10 cops.
What seems to make this more than just another run-of-the-mill clash over pay, arrears or conditions of work - similar to those occurring bi-weekly in the garment sector - are the demands of the workers. These are reported as that "house rent in Kanchpur industrial area and the adjacent neighbourhood be lowered and supply of gas and water ensured." Recognising that the nominal working wage is only one part of the equation in measuring class exploitation, these demands (along with growing generalised demands for a living minimum wage) suggest a process whereby workers are beginning to use their workplace power as producers to express wider demands of their class as a whole and to challenge the totality of their conditions of existence as proletarians. That is 'class consciousness' in practice.
Hard rock mining
Dinajpur, far north-western Bangladesh, Rangpur Division - Wednesday May 26th ; Miners of Maddhapara Granite Mining Company Ltd (MGMCL) have called off their four-day-old indefinite strike. The 292 strikers agreed to return to work after their union negotiated a promise that workers' demands - for ending casualisation by granting permanent employment status and for payment of wage arrears - would be met within the next year.
The strike began on Sunday morning. The next day, workers locked 100 management officials (including the Managing Director) in the residential complex and cut off electricity and water. Some officials were released to attend negotiations with the union on Tuesday night, leading to the agreement on Wednesday.
“I either want less corruption, or more chance to participate in it.” (Ashleigh Brilliant)
The Maddhapara mine has a history typical of all that is corrupt and inefficient in the Bangladeshi economy - symptoms that inhibit economic expansion. Constructed by a North Korean company and opened in 2008, it has the capacity to produce daily thousands of tons of high quality granite. The government planned that the rock would be sold both commercially and also used in public works infrastructure projects by state agencies such as the Roads and Highways, Bangladesh Water Development Board and the Bangladesh Railway.
Bangladesh had long been dependent on Indian imports of granite and the new mine is able to undercut the imported rock price by more than half. It was estimated the mine could
...produce 1.65 million tons of hard rock annually, thus saving more than US$ 360 million of foreign exchange. Moreover, according to experts, if the production of the project could be diversified in establishing a plant to cut and produce high quality granite tiles, it would meet the local demand as well as open a new vista of opportunity for Bangladesh in getting huge income from the export trade. (http://www.globalpolitician.com/24884-bangladesh)
But this did not please the local rock import/export traders on both sides of the border, who have bribed bureaucrats to ignore government directives to supply public works projects with the cheaper source of local rock.
‘Service contractors, engaged by the public-sector organizations for their work such as the protection of embankment or construction of road, as well as private-sector organizations depend on imported rocks to siphon off money by evading taxes or by buying low-quality rocks,’ said a Petrobangla source.(ibid.)
They were aided in this by Bangladesh's biggest media empire, known as the "Star Group" (owned by the Transcom trading conglomerate). Owners of leading English language paper the Daily Star, various Bengali publications and a radio station, its founder-owner Latifur Rahman has used the media arm of Transcom to promote his business interests, represented by the industrial sectors of Transcom, and to discredit economic rivals. The Maddhapara mine has been a target of Transcom's smears since it was under construction.
Rahman began his career in the jute mill industry, once the country's leading industry. As the jute sector declined in the 1990s Rahman closed his mills and ran off without paying thousands of his employees. He also ripped off the Central Bank for several longstanding loans.
But Rahman was soon back in business, able to secure millions of dollars in funding from his wife's cousin, Anup Chetia, businessman and leader of ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom - a separatist group from Assam, demanding liberation of several north-eastern Indian states). Gaining a franchise as sole distributor of Nestle brand milk products in Bangladesh, Rahman rapidly built up Transcom by diversifying into various business interests, acquiring ownership of Pepsi, Phillips and several large industrial enterprises along the way. Smuggling is rumoured as another major area of operation.
It's also claimed Rahman has turned a crafty profit supplying public infrastructure projects with inferior materials;
‘Everyone knows the news about cracks in Jamuna Multi-purpose Bridge in Bangladesh. But, possibly no one knows the fact that the main reason behind such cracks was due to use of a particular brand of cement, which in the name of Portland Grey Cement is in fact fly ash mixed lowest grade cement. And, this inferior quality of cement went into various high cost projects in Bangladesh just because; chairman of the company producing and marketing this brand is none but Transcom´s Latifur Rahman. (http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/64216)
There have been several dangerous faults and collapses of building projects in the country - with corruption often at every level, quality and safety are quickly sacrificed.
"An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought." (Simon Cameron)
Since 2005, as the mine's opening approached, the Daily Star began publishing articles falsely claiming that the mine's granite would be more expensive than the imported variety. Defending it's own business interests, it produced a steady stream of stories designed to discredit the mine's economic viability;
‘It is learnt that, some vested interest groups, including importers of stones and stone-chips from India, Myanmar and Malaysia are patronizing such media terror by Star, thus attempting to sabotage country´s most prospective project, which not only is already saving millions of dollars, but, also is set to turn into a huge prospect of earning millions of dollars from export of world-class Granite Tiles. (ibid.)
One of the cruder attempts at misinformation appeared on the Star's front page in 2008. Commenting on 'Nam-nam', the North Korean contractors who built the mine, the Star showed its geo-political ignorance;
In this report, Daily Star wrote, "Nam-nam is now operating the mine with 65 South Koreans under a one-year service contract due to expire on May 27. As it did not fully transfer the South Korean technology to the MGMCL, it will get yet another year's service contract, the sources said."
[...] ... the reporter knows nothing of the project but was writing thing being dictated by vested interest groups. In the same news, while the reporter said Nam-Nam is a North Korean company, how he could discover 65 South Koreans in the project (does he lack the minimum knowledge that North and South Korea do not have any diplomatic relations as yet?). (ibid.)
Unsurprisingly, Bangladesh has one of the weakest infrastructures in the world, with consequences for health, lifespan, transportation, commerce etc. This is how a capitalist think-tank describes the problems of capital accumulation;
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and has struggled to attract foreign investment in a business environment marked by pervasive corruption, cumbersome regulations and an inconsistent and politicised approach to the rule of law. The country has been at or near the bottom of numerous accountability, transparency and corruption indices for several years. Encouragingly, Bangladesh's 2007-2008 military-backed government implemented a programme of widespread institutional reform and, in an unprecedented move, set out to aggressively tackle the country's high levels of corruption, resulting in the conviction of corrupt businesspeople, politicians and high-ranking officials. Nevertheless, corruption continues to be widespread at all administrative levels. Companies report inadequate supply of infrastructure as the biggest constraint to investment in Bangladesh, followed by corruption and an inefficient government bureaucracy. The vast majority of companies expect to pay bribes to public officials in order to do business, while just one in four companies perceive the judiciary to be fair, impartial and uncorrupted. (Business Anti-Corruption Portal - http://www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/south-asia/bangladesh)
“Some explanations of a crime are not explanations: they're part of the crime.” (Olavo de Cavarlho)
The anti-corruption element of the 2007-2008 'caretaker' military-backed government was - surprise, surprise - itself corrupted. Showing the extent of Transcom's web of power;
Daily Star group managed to send its Executive Editor Syed Fahim Munayem as the Press Secretary to the Chief Executive of the interim government. Even at later stage, when Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) issued notice on Latifur Rahman asking declaration of his wealth and assets, the entire issue was some how put into suppression with the help of Daily Star-Prothom Alo group. (ibid.)
Everything can be bought, and, while it's for sale, everything will be. Rahman and Transcom have continued to avoid any effective legal investigation of their operations.
1) See earlier article; http://libcom.org/news/river-workers-strike-over-deal-struck-strike-wave-grows-18052010
2) For more on Rahman's empire and his Daily Star's hostility to the Maddhapara Mine project, see; When the media turns into evil - June 09, 2008; http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/64216