Bangladesh: Strikes, clashes and party leaders to be exiled?

Following on from our previous report, workers at the four Khulna jute mills were locked out by bosses last week.

Submitted by Red Marriott on April 23, 2007

The lockout occurred in the south-west of the country on Thursday 20 April, following a week of strikes and demonstrations demanding payment of wage arrears and holiday allowances.

"Daily-basis labourers at Star Jute Mills have not been paid for the last 22 weeks and regular workers for six months, labourers at Peoples Jute Mills for 19 weeks and workers for seven months, labourers at Crescent Jute Mills for 18 weeks and workers for six months, and labourers at Platinum Jubilee Jute Mills for 17 weeks and workers for five months." (New Age, 22/Apr/07)
Wages are owed to 22,000 workers.

Clashes with cops continued on Saturday afternoon when 100 people were injured, including 9 cops. Workers threw bricks at the police, who replied with truncheons, tear gas rubber bullets and road blocks.

"Eyewitnesses said the workers reorganised and began to shower brick bats [i.e. pieces of brick] on police at about 4:00pm. Police then raided on the workers’ colonies and started beating the residents, when the entire area turned into a battlefield.

Police fired teargas shells and rubber bullets again during the repeated chases and counter-chases at five points of the belt, said eyewitness.

They said police also fired with shotguns at the workers, which the police denied.

The rumour of the death of a worker, Aslam, in police fire spread in the area, making the workers even more violent.

At least 60 workers were injured in the clashes at this time and the police arrested 50 others, police and eyewitnesses said.

The workers launched another attack with brick bats from various hiding places at about 5:45pm but no clash ensued this time." (New Age)

70 workers were arrested. Under the current state of emergency legislation, introduced the day before the caretaker government came to power in January, all demonstrations and political assemblies are illegal. Trade unions are also banned from functioning so the jute workers struggle is not being mediated or represented by union officials. Bangladeshi workers have anyway low and transient levels of unionisation and have shown themselves consistently capable of high levels of self-organisation.

The state-owned mills suffer from regular work stoppages due to shortages of raw materials and interruptions to power supplies. Workers are not paid for these stoppages, late wage payment is a common problem, and the industry has been in decline due to competition from synthetic materials; this all combines to make the workers now increasingly desperate after so long without pay to feed their families.

Police also clashed with 500 schoolkids, children of the striking workers, who walked out of school in support of their parents. 20 were injured as they fought cops and threw bricks.

An agreement has now been reached for small interim wage payments to be made this week and for the lockout to end. Workers today complained that police used torture when they raided workers' houses after the riot.
"The local police administration Sunday used loudspeakers to ask the workers to stay calm. The call however warned the workers, saying toughest action would be taken if anybody dared to criticise the government or shelter the troublemakers since a state of emergency is in force." (New Age, 23/Apr/07)

Party leaders forced into exile?
Khaled Zia, chairperson and leader of the former ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP) is tryng to resist beng banished into exile in Saudi Arabia. The caretaker government has her under apparent house arrest and has ordered her imminent departure. It's intended she will leave with a dozen family members, but her eldest son Tarique will remain in jail to face extortion charges relating to the last BNP term of government.

Meanwhile her opposite number Sheik Hasina, leader of the rival Awami League and a former Prime Minister, is in London and has been refused a seat on a British Airways plane after the caretaker government informed BA the plane would not be allowed to land in Bangladesh with Hasina on board . Though she has stated her wish to return it seems she too is set to take up enforced exile, perhaps in the USA. Absurdly, at the same time the government is denying her re-entry a Bangladeshi court has issued a warrant for her arrest for absconding from justice! She faces charges of being, with other Party oficials, implicated in the deaths of rival political activists in street battles several months ago. Brutality, murder and corruption are routine in Bangladeshi politics; so whether or not the present allegations against Zia and Hasina are true, it is certain that they have both risen to their position by using the normal methods.

The two leaders are trying to fight the banishments, both legally and by appealing for support from influential governments - but the USA, UK and UN have been generally supportive of the caretaker government's actions since their takeover and the declaration of an indefinite state of emergency .