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Industrial Riots In Bangladesh : Whose Responsibility,Whose Interest?

By Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha

Country has observed the largest garment worker uprising in Bangladesh
from 22 to 24 May’06. Although this sector earns 80% of the foreign
currency the laborers do not have proper employment contract, standard
working hour (8 hours per day), weekend, leisure hour, break to drink
water or pee, proper toilet facilities, medical leave etc.

Whether one likes it or not things have turned even nastier and more
violent than it was 35 years ago. The well-to-do upper classes'
indifference to the growing chaos and suffering of the poor much more
noticeable in Bangladesh than what prevailed during the turbulent days of 1966
or 1969. It is shocking and sickening that while the deaths of five
students by police firing on February 21, 1952 stirred up the entire
province of East Pakistan eventually leading to the creation of Bangladesh,
hundreds of deaths of unarmed civilians by law-enforcing agencies and
para-military forces during the last thirty five years, more so during
the last decade or so, have hardly stirred up the polity.

The latest attacks on several garment factories in and around Dhaka
city by garment factory workers, who are the most productive and most
exploited, the least rewarded and appreciated sections of the poor,
have made headlines. The whole country seems to be worried. The predatory,
rapacious garment factory owners, who always brag as the biggest
foreign exchange earners for Bangladesh have come out on the street demanding
"justice" and government intervention. Any law-abiding person,
including myself, would expect that the rule of law prevails replacing chaos
and disorder.

However, one wonders what type of "justice" and "orderly behavior" the
poor garment factory workers have been getting from either the garment
factory owners (who remind me of the ruthless slave owners and the
colonial plantation owners of the past) or the government! Is it fair to
pay around sixty US cents to a factory worker per day (NOT PER HOUR)? Are
not the government and members of the civil society aware of the fact
that anyone earning less than a dollar per day is living below the
poverty line? Are not human rights activist in Bangladesh and abroad aware
of the fact that Bangladeshi garment factory workers are much worse off
than slaves in US plantations with regard to calorie intake and not
much better off with regard to freedom, leisure and human dignity?

Since the answers to the above questions ( I can raise many more
embarrassing questions for the government, garment factory owners and
members of the so-called civil society) ought to be in the affirmative by any
one having any sense of justice, honesty and human dignity, the answer
to the question, "Who is responsible for burning down of garment
factories?" is that the same people who are responsible for hundreds of
deaths of garment factory workers by fire in factories are responsible for
the latest "fire works" in and around garment factories as well.

I was appalled by the quick outcry from both the government, the
opposition and the garments and textiles owners blaming anarchists and
conspirators from other countries for the outburst of violent protest that
rocked the garments and textiles industries.

This finally showed the ocean divide between the urban that is the (so
called) educated folks as well as the workers and farmers in our
country. When poor people were dying demanding electricity our self-styled
educated and urban class was worried about cricket!

Every single journalist and commentators were trying to protect the
owners of these sweatshops in the name of saving the national export

I would like to know what how many of our population is directly
benefited from these sweatshops and what is the percentage of GDP that comes
from these sweatshops. I thought this outburst would finally bring the
plight of the garment workers to the fore and something will be done to
enforce some sort of law and standard for salary, working conditions
and other compensation for the "Golden Girls" of our export industry.

But to our utter disgust these owners were demonstrating and lying down
on the roads! I have seen how these so called owners (I am not sure if
they should be called owners as most of them build these factories by
usurping bank-loans and black money) treat their most valuable resource
- the employees of their factories.

It is evident that Bangladesh government treated this lumpen class better than
they treat the workers.

I have seen with my own eyes 9 years ago how an owner of a so called
factory kicked an employee so hard that the employee soiled himself. And
now these owners want protection and sympathy?

Garments workers from Bangladesh deserve global support.
They are now up against an organized campaign of misinformation and

Please wish them success in securing their just demand for wages and
time off.

The author is available at:

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