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On the workers movement since June 10, 2012

Report from Garment Workers Trade Union Center(GWTUC),Bangladesh (provided by the Communist Party of Bangladesh, 28 October 2012)

The movement initially started from Ashulia industrial area at the suburb of the capital city Dhaka and also erupted in Kachpur industrial area of Narayangonj, near Dhaka. The unrest, strikes and demonstrations, road blocks were on the one hand spontaneous expression of long standing grievances of the workers, due to extreme low wages and bad working and living conditions, on the other hand manipulations by leaders of one garment worker trade union in Bangladesh, funded and led by US and some NGO’s of similar nature played a role in precipitating such a situation to press for some hidden US agenda regarding Bangladesh. Some other factors also had their influence.

1. Cost of living for garment workers was increasing day by day and life was becoming more and more difficult for them. In 2010 the Minimum wages board fixed up the minimum wage of garment workers. Worker’s demand was Tk 5000 for the lowest grade. The Board fixed it at Tk 2000 as basic and Tk 3000 including house rent and other benefits. The worker did not accept the award of the Board. Absence of trade union rights, repressions and threats suppressed possible movement. Yet there were sporadic strikes and demonstrations in support of demand for higher wages. Hundreds of workers were arrested, assaulted, dismissed or forced to leave their slums colonies and homes.Mantu Ghose President of GWTUC was arrested along with hundreds of other leaders and activist. Many went underground after police raids.

Increase in the prices of daily necessities, cost for transportation, health care and particularly house rent was becoming unbearable. The workers were pressing for higher wages, pecuniary benefits and dearness allowances. Workers resentment was being expressed every day in incidents tool down, demonstration etc. at different factories.

2. The US government since some time had been complaining that the garment employers in Bangladesh were not paying enough wages to workers, pecuniary benefits, facilities and rights ensured by labour laws and ILO conventions. The high officials of the US administration and secretaries like Hilary Clinton told their Bangladeshi counterpart and also publicly stated that if the employers fail to be compliant US buyers will stop importing garments from Bangladesh. Hilary during her last visit also demanded enquiry and punishment of killers of Aminul Islam a former garment worker and activist of Bangladesh Centre of Workers Solidarity, an organization affiliated to AFL-CIO and directly supported and monitored by US embassy in Dhaka.Aminul went missing on April 4, whose dead body was subsequently found in another district Tangail, after three days. Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Center and other trade unions in the apparel sector condemned this killing as well as other killings in the garment sectors. More recently two working women of the garment sector were killed in open daylight due to police assault and shootings. Garment worker Kamrun Nahar a member of GWTUC was killed on May 5 at Asulia and Sonya at Kachpur, N.Ganj on May 21.However the US officials never cared to condemn such killings and ruthless repressions in the garment sector. It is interesting to note that trouble in the garment sector began just on the next day when a letter of Hilary Clinton was handed over to the Prime Minister and the US Ambassador met the leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Employers Association BGMEA.The letter and the discussion mentioned above included the issue of compliance in the apparel sector and threat of cancellation of import orders from USA.It is now clear that the US government has its hidden agenda regarding Bangladesh and they were. They openly stated about the growing importance of Bangladesh in the US strategy in this region, and have been openly pressing for signing TICFA, Handing over of oil and gas blocks and coal and other natural resources to US and MNC’s, strategic partnership dialogue, more military and Naval facilities and cooption of Bangladesh in the US economic, military and diplomatic strategy. The high officials of USA did not hesitate to openly express their “irritations” over the non compliance of US requirements by Bangladesh.

3. On May 12 an incident occurred in Artistic Design Limited a factory belonging to Hamim Group in Ashulia. Store keeper Salman was arrested. Soon rumours spread that Salman had been killed. This greatly agitated the workers. On May 14 workers went out on the street and they were joined by the workers of the neighbouring factories. The main high way was blocked for some hours which became a sort of battle field. Police opened fire. But the workers too fought back by throwing stones etc. At one stage a female garment worker Kamrun Nahar a member of GWTUC was killed during police assault. Nahar was a worker of Opex Sweater. It may be mentioned that the workers of Opex Sweater factories under the leadership of GWTUC had been fighting against illegal dismissal and ill treatment etc. since April in the form of, sit down strike, and meetings and demonstrations in front of Government Labour Department. On May 15 workers of Hamim group resumed their work. But again stopped work and went out of the factory as none could tell anything about the where about of missing store keeper Salman. Workers of other factories too came out in the street to express Solidarity. There were more than one hundred thousand on the street for about five hours. Worker blocked traffic and the situation became violent. Other forces also came into the scene to achieve their own objectives.(a)Elements from Jamayete Islam a fundamentalist party and its ally BNP the main opposition, tried to use the situation for their political ends.(b)Hooligans and musclemen, even some ruling party(AL) extortionists who could not get enough money from owners of factories and (c)some businessmen dealing with “jhute” a waste product of apparel factories, aggrieved because they could not obtain enough business, all fanned the situation to settle their own scores and provoked attacks on factories and shops and even organised lootings.GWTUC activists and workers tried to resist hooliganism but the police failed to take selective action against known criminals and went for indiscriminate assault and shootings. On that day more than hundred workers, journalists, pedestrians and also two police men were injured. Police fired more than one thousand rubber bullets.

 

4. In the first weak of June, some anonymous leaflets and posters were distributed in Ashulia demanding higher wages and other benefits. It called for tool down strike on June 9 and full fledged strike from June 10.It is reported that the solidarity center backed by US outfits were behind these leaflets. The workers in general had some burning and genuine demands and were much agitated. The trouble started from Hamim group and spread to other factories. Gradually production stopped in nearly 300 factories at Jamgora, Nishchintapur, Shimultala, Ashulia, Bypile, Jirabo and Ghoshbag was.GWTUC leaders participated in bipartite and tripartite negotiations at national level and factory level particularly in Hamim and Opex group of industries and succeeded in realising some of the demands of the workers. Some factories started production but were soon stopped because of worker coming out of adjacent factories. The employer’s organisation declared closure of all factories in Ashulia IA from June17, a virtual lockout. Trade Unions, Progressive Political Parties and people at large were against the closure of factories. A writ petition was filed in the High Court against the lockout. BGMEA and BKMEA (employer’s organisation) were compelled to re open the factories on June 21.

Presently factories in the apparel sector all over the country are running. However sporadic out burst of workers discontent continues in the form of stoppage of work, demonstrations. And strikes. Negotiations at the plant level are also taking place to resolve the disputes. The biggest Muslim festival Eid holidays start from August 19.Workers most of whom go to their village home during holidays are careful so that a situation is not precipitated. Yet workers struggle continue to realise some urgent demands mainly festival bonus equivalent to one months wage, a benefit being enjoyed by all govt.officers and workers of major industries in the organised sector.

Narayanganj

 

5. Sinha Textile and Opex Garment factory, employing 45 thousand workers, is situated in Narayangonj, near Dhaka city. Workers of this factory stopped work as a protest against illegal dismissal of 126 workers. On May 22 workers went out into the street and blocked the high way connecting Dhaka to Chittagong. Police resorted to lath charge to disperse the workers. A female worker Sonia assaulted and chased by police while running for life was run over by a bus and killed. Agitation continued. On May 24 there was a tripartite meeting (govt. owner and worker) attended by Montu Ghosh, and Ruhul Amin, president and general secretary of GWTUC respectively. According to the decision of the meeting, major demands of the workers were agreed upon and the factory started production from the next day.GWTUC president Montu Ghosh along with other leaders Iqbal Hosain, Nurul Islam and Sohel, who went to the factory gate early in the morning on May 25 so that all workers join their duty and factory starts production smoothly. After all the workers entered the factory Mantu Ghosh and other leaders while on their way back were attacked by hooligans near the factory and were severely injured. These hooligans belong to a mafia group hired by employers of garment factories of the area including Opex Sinha factory to suppress any kind of protest by workers and attempts to form trade unions. Severely injured Mantu Ghosh and other leaders were rushed to hospital.

This heinous assault on workers leaders was condemned by all Trade Unions and many political and mass organisations and they demanded immediate arrest and punishment of the culprits. However delay in arrest aroused workers anger on May 27 the workers of the Sinha/Opex factory came out on the street spontaneously in thousands. About ten thousand workers attacked and ransacked “Kolapatti” a market place known as the head quarters of the local mafia groups. The hooligans used to bring T U activists and workers and physically torture them. Even women workers were brought to this place and raped. At last on 27th night police arrested one Mannan, local vice president of ruling party trade union was arrested. On May 27th a tripartite meeting was held and factory was started on 28th.

6. In the mean time the strike wave in Ashulia started spreading in other areas. On June 13 workers of Sinha/Opex came out on the streets and the employer declared closure of the factory. On June 15th a bipartite negotiation with the GWTUC took place. It was agreed that workers will be given 5% increment, 2festival bonus; each equivalent to one month’s wage will be given before 2 Eid’s every year. There will be no victimisation and factory will soon start production. But the employers were delaying re opening of the factory. On the night of June the 23rd Police Men along with managerial staff and local thugs were found going to workers slums and colonies telling the workers directly or by announcement over the microphone that 903 workers were terminated and they should go to govt. Labour Department office at Naryanganj District Head quarters to receive their termination letters and legal dues. The workers were also threatened that if they do not accept the termination they will face dire consequences including arrest, eviction and physical assault. The employers not only terminated 903 workers but also arrested an activist and black listed all of them which barred them from employment in other apparel factories.

903 workers along with others dismissed earlier or forced to leave the industrial area by police and hired hooligans are not getting any job while the festival is approaching. Workers and their families will not be able to celebrate the coming Eid festival.

GWTUC continues to fight for festival bonus for terminated workers, removal of their names from the black list, reinstatement and unfettered trade union right guaranteed by the laws of the country.

Joly Talukder

Organising Secretary

Date:July30,2012

 

Mukti Bhaban,2Comrade Moni Singh Road,Purana Paltan,Dhaka 1217,Bangladesh.

Email garmentworkersbd@yahoo.com

Cell:+880 1932 4462 64

+880 1675 0218 19

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