Bangladeshi garment workers out again and escalating

Striking garment workers fight cops - Mirpur, Dhaka, Jan 08

There have been more clashes in the Mirpur industrial area of Dhaka (see previous report); on Saturday 12th thousands of garment workers again demonstrated for improvements in conditions.

Submitted by Red Marriott on January 15, 2008

Their demands include "that they should be paid their wages and overtime bills by the first week of every month and night allowance night-shift work. They further demanded that they should be given weekly day-off and that the job of no worker should be terminated without valid reasons." A main highway was blocked for 13 hours beginning at 8 am; workers from 3 factories were joined by hundreds from several other nearby workplaces. Negotiations began between worker representatives and bosses but reached no conclusions.

On Sunday morning talks resumed but as they continued a dispute occurred in one factory, leading to a walkout. This factory is housed in a 10 storey building containing several other firms and the walkout quickly spread to other workplaces. Workers again blocked the road - after an hour they were dispersed by police baton charges.
Negotiation resumed and management eventually agreed "to pay the salary in the first seven working days of the month, pay overtime bills which would be double the basic pay by the 25th of the month and festival allowance which would be equal to the basic salary, and grant sick and annual leave in keeping with the labour law.
The management also agreed not to terminate the job of any workers in violation of the labour law. The agreement stipulates that the workers would face legal action if they take to the streets to realise their demands.
Similar demands were won earlier in the month with similar tactics by workers at the nearby SQ Sweater factory.

Yesterday (Monday 14th) there were further demonstrations and roadblocks by thousands of workers from the MBM factory demanding a pay rise and other improvements. In the early evening this erupted into a major battle with cops when they baton charged to clear the road for rush hour traffic; bricks were thrown in retaliation, leading to 100 casualties, including 20 cops. A rumour also spread that two workers had been killed in a factory; this brought more workers out onto the street and into the fighting. Most factories then closed for the day. Thousands of workers continued to fight cops and also attacked factory buildings. There has been no confirmation of any deaths. As the conflict spread throughout the area - which also houses workers' slums - police now resorted to using teargas, rubber bullets and beating of demonstrators. The fighting eventually ended at 9pm.

Struggles in Bangladesh are escalating again, with strikes and skirmishes increasingly reported in several areas, particularly in jute mills (the other main industry). The military government - in power since Jan 2007 - has lost any remaining credibility in the eyes of the poor and is also intensely resented by the political and business sections of the ruling class who have been severely attacked in its 'anti-corruption' purges. But they seem no closer to solving the political stalemate of the country, with both main party leaders in jail awaiting trial and no one else willing to step into the political bear pit. The present government have so far adopted a (for Bangladesh) relatively tolerant approach to worker agitation, with no decisive repression attempted; in the face of such escalation, one wonders how long it might continue. If something on the scale of the garment workers revolt of May 2006 were to occur, how far would their tolerance go?