Protesting Bangladeshi garment workers torch factories
Thousands of protesting workers set fire to six garment factories in Bangladesh, after a colleague was killed, and scores injured, in clashes with police. The violence erupted last Monday, when police opened fire on garment workers protesting peacefully.
The workers demanded better pay and benefits. The factory owners were not paying overtime to the workers and they also refused to increase wages. The garment and textile workers are mostly very low paid. Most earn less than a dollar per day. The majority is on daily wage and contract labour, and they have no trade union or other rights: there are no social security, health and pension rights.
One worker described the situation: “We tried to solve the problem through negotiations but factory owners refused to solve the problem. We then organised a peaceful demonstration to register our protest. The owners called the police and they started shooting us without any reason. We want bread and education for our children but they are giving us bullets”.
The news of the killings spread throughout the export zone of Savar, some 25 kilometers from the country’s capital, Dhaka. Angry workers stopped work and gathered on the main highway to protest against the killing. They barricaded a highway and attacked trucks and vehicles to stop the traffic. This violence spread to the neighbouring areas of Uttara, Mirpur and Tejgaon, where workers attacked factories. More than 30,000 workers, armed with sticks and stones, ransacked a few factories. The workers announced a strike and continued protests against the killings and against their working conditions.
The authorities deployed the elite ‘Rapid Action Battalion’ force to repress the protesting workers. This force is notorious for killing people without any reason. One police officer made his intentions clear: “The situation remains very tense, with more violence feared. We will not tolerate any attacks from the workers. We are here to protect the private property of factory owners and we will do any thing possible to save the factories and private property”.
Government’s anti-worker policies
The government is siding fully with the factory owners. The right wing Khalida Zia administration is carrying out vicious anti-workers policies at the behest of the IMF and World Bank. This government launched big anti-worker laws and policies, over the last four years, to crush the trade unions. These policies resulted in the super-exploitation of workers, which has become unbearable for the workforces. The recent violent protests show the anger and frustration among many workers. They are sick and tired of super-exploitation and repression and they have started to fight-back against barbaric and repressive conditions.
Bangladesh will see more strikes and struggles by workers. Struggles of garment workers will increase, as repression and exploitation intensify. Garments are Bangladesh’s biggest export, bringing more than 6 billion dollars a year to the country’s economy. The industry has over 4,000 factories and employs nearly 2 million workers. It is the backbone of the Bangladeshi economy. But the garment workers face hunger, poverty, repression and exploitation. While the bosses make billions in profits workers are not getting enough wages to feed their families.
The working class of Bangladesh has no future under capitalism. It needs to replace this rotten and reactionary system with a society that can fundamentally change the lives of millions of workers. Workers need a society which they control and run. The only system that can transform the lives of the working class is democratic socialism: a system free of all exploitation and repression. The working class in Bangladesh only can solve their basic and fundamental problems on the basis of socialism.