Strikes and protests by Bangladesh garment workers continue in the face of harsh repression by the state. Following the deaths of three strikers, shot down when police opened fire on demonstrators in Chittagong on 14 December, the protests have increased.
On 18 December a rally held at Dhaka university protested at the arrest and remand in custody of Moshrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF). They demanded her release and that of all those arrested – for the crime of demanding a living wage and workers’ rights. They are also demanding safe working conditions, an issue highlighted by the terrible fire which recently swept through a garment factory near the capital, Dhaka, killing over 30 workers. This factory was producing clothes for the likes of Gap and Wrangler, major western-based multinationals profiteering from workers on some of the lowest wages in the world. Other companies exploiting Bangladeshi labour include Wal-Mart, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour, to name but a few.
Mishu was picked up in the middle of the night on 14 December by agents claiming to be from the detective branch of the police. They did not have an arrest warrant. She is being held under trumped up charges of vandalism and connections with members of Jamaat-e-Islami, a proscribed Islamist organisation. The charges are false and no evidence has been produced. Clearly, they are being used merely as a pretext to keep her away from the movement and to intimidate activists.
The conditions Mishu – and all the other detainees – are being held in are disgusting. She has been denied the use of her medication for asthma and for a spinal injury she received in an attack on her life several years ago. Although Mishu was unable to stand in court on 19 December, the judge granted the security forces a further two days to interrogate her. Later that day, Mishu was hospitalised. She is still being held.
Garment workers in Bangladesh have shown the most incredible bravery and determination in the face of this brutal repression. They have been taking strike action throughout the year and deserve the solidarity of all workers internationally. All charges must be lifted immediately from Moshrefa Mishu and the hundreds of other garment workers arrested. All must be freed unconditionally. The minimum wage must be paid to all workers without delay – although it needs to be increased substantially to provide a living wage. Safety conditions in the garment industry must be improved as a matter of urgency.