Two major outbreaks of garment workers' fury have occurred this week.
On Sunday night (May 10) at the Rupashi Sweater factory in Narayanganj (a river port town in central Bangladesh and centre of jute and textiles industries) bosses were attacked by a group of workers demanding their unpaid wages. When they turned up for work on Monday morning, workers found themselves locked out of the factory. The workers then marched to other factories - shouting slogans for higher wages - and brought out thousands of other workers. (Some reports indicate that two groups of workers clashed at one factory - whether because they refused to join the demonstrators and/or because they were hurt when the factory was attacked is unclear. Photos suggest the clash may have been between workers and security and management personnel of the factory attacked.) The violence quickly spread - 15,000 workers came out on to the streets and around 14 factories were attacked and vandalised. 15 vehicles were damaged as two main inter-city highways were blocked for 4 hours; the roads became a battleground between police and paramilitary forces (including the recently mutinous Bangladeshi Rifles) and enraged workers. Huge numbers of security forces used teargas and baton charges to finally disperse the workers by 1pm.
At Savar (also in central Bangladesh, a center of textiles and agriculture) garment workers used similar tactics. The bosses had earlier promised payment of three months owed wages. After failing to receive the arrears, on Monday afternoon hundreds of workers at the Doel Group factory first smashed some windows and office equipment; they then walked off the job and barricaded the busy main highway for over an hour. Police arrived; "A witness said that the garment workers went berserk after police clubbed them." A furious battle began, with workers using sticks and bricks to repulse baton charges. Police and paramilitaries resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets, finally clearing the area at 4pm. Workers trashed over 30 vehicles, including a police van. 50 people, including cops, were injured and one worker suffered a bullet injury.
These incidents are entirely typical of the increasing unrest in the garment industry. Real wages have declined as inflation rises; indicating how precarious and malnourished much of the workforce is, workers are now being given temporary food rations as an alternative to permanent wage increases.