The unrest continues in the garment industry - another worker killed as rioting spreads across the whole garment factory area in Ashulia.
Ashulia district, Savar, near Dhaka; The unrest that began on Saturday (see previous story; http://libcom.org/news/fury-garment-worker-shot-dead-bangladesh-workers-strike-riot-28062009) - when security forces killed a worker during demonstrations for the reinstatement of sacked workers - has escalated. As workers gathered in the industrial zone on Sunday morning (28th June), to demand punishment of the killers and compensation for the dead worker's family, trouble erupted again. Despite a common 7-day working week (with 14hr days), factories remained closed today for fear of further violence; but garment workers gathered together at their factory gates and then converged in one mass of several thousands on the nearby main highway.
At 9am the crowd began to block the highway, barricading it with burning tyres; cops baton charged and workers responded with a barrage of bricks and stones. Running battles began, of chase and counter-chase, and the whole industrial area became a battleground. Workers began attacking shops, petrol stations and other commercial premises along the highway - they also vandalised 50 vehicles. Police and paramilitary security forces replied with over 200 rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas.
During the battle over 150 people were injured; six workers were shot, one of whom was killed, and at least 30 were critically injured. Four news reporters were also injured - one seriously. Twenty cops were also injured.
As news of another killing spread the assaults on bosses' property swept through the industrial zone. Fifty garment factories were attacked and some set on fire; thick plumes of smoke could be seen across the garment sector.
By 2.30pm the trouble had calmed - but tension remains high and this evening massive numbers of police and security forces are patrolling the area.
Three Ansar personnel - the civilian volunteer paramiltary unit responsible for yesterday's killing - have been remanded in custody as suspects.
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The unrest coincides with release of a report by the government's office of the Chief Inspector of Factories;
At least one in every seven garment factories does not pay salaries to the workers regularly and one in every three factories could in no way be considered a good employer in view of the labour laws, an official survey reveals.
Labour rights violation is actually more widespread in garment factories than the survey has projected, said labour leaders, who alleged that factory owners had found global recession as a useful pretext for cruel exploitation of workers. [...]
The report also listed 34 per cent or 309 of the factories surveyed as substandard in terms of implementation of labour rules. (New Age - 29 June 09)
Though there has been some improvement on these issues in recent years, these figures are still probably significant underestimates. Garment factories have certain tricks they use to fake 'compliance' with workplace labour guidelines and obligations. When government inspectors or Compliance Officers representing international buyers conduct inspections they have sometimes been shown especially arranged 'compliant' areas of the workplace - set up specifically to impress such inspectors with their adherence to health & safety rules and facilities, while the rest of the factory fails to conform to these standards. Fake accounts are also used, to conceal the long hours worked by employees. The garment sector workplace is a dangerous environment; physical exhaustion (made worse by malnutrition due to low wages), toxic chemicals, factory fires, physical assaults by management personnel etc are common hazards.
The last major revolt of garment workers was in 2006 and was massive;
To illustrate the scale of events: around 4000 factories in Dhaka went on wildcat strike, 16 factories were burnt down by strikers and hundreds more ransacked and looted, pitched battles were fought with cops and private security forces in workplaces and workers' neighbourhoods, main roads were blocked. Casualties include 3 workers shot dead , thousands injured, several thousand jailed. The Government eventually felt compelled to bring in the Army to restore 'order'. It was a working class revolt that spread beyond the workplace and generalised to involve the wider working class community. (http://libcom.org/news/article.php/bangladesh-garment-revolt-140706)
The present events are probably the fiercest clashes since then. The Bangladeshi garment sector industry is reporting that export orders are largely holding up so far, despite the economic crisis. The cheapest labour paid the lowest wages in the world still gives bosses a competitive edge. But as inflation eats further into wages and workers' anger grows, brute repression may be of limited use in keeping a lid on labour relations.