Aug 16, 2010
Thousands of textile industry workers in Dacca, the capital of Bangladesh, are in a struggle for wage increases. Defending themselves in violent clashes with the police, they hurled rocks against tear gas grenades and rubber bullets.
The movement has gone on for months, fueled by high price increases which struck workers hard. Tens of thousands of workers were involved last June, forcing 700 mills employing 800,000 workers to close their doors for a time.
The government’s proposal to raise the monthly wage from only $24 to $43, while the unions demanded $72, was seen as worse than insulting and stoked the workers’ anger. On July 31, more than 20,000 workers stopped work in Dacca, going from factory to factory, blocking roads to the north and south, occupying streets downtown and sometimes forcing the police to retreat.
The Bangladesh textile industry employs around 3.5 million workers, mainly women, who are among the lowest paid in the world. These factories produce for some of the biggest and wealthiest companies and Western brands such as Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Marks & Spencer and Levi Strauss. The human rights group Action Aid says, “the sales of H&M are higher than the total annual government budget of Bangladesh.” One factory producing for H&M had a fire last February which killed 21 workers.
Not content from super-exploiting workers, these businesses cynically threaten to go to China or Viet Nam, where they also have subcontractors. But these threats, reinforced by the government and Bangladeshi bosses for the past months, have been ineffective. The Bangladeshi workers know that in China workers are also striking.