(Published in Lalkar)
Over 350 garment workers have lost their lives in the collapse of the factory where they were working in the Rana Plaza complex in Savar, just north of Dhaka. As this is written, around 900 are still listed as ‘missing’ and with every minute that passes the likelihood of them being added to the 350 becomes more certain. (The number of confirmed deaths has since exceeded a staggering 1000 – Toilers’ Struggle)
The owner of the RanaPlaza, Sohel Rana, a man described as politically ‘connected’ is still being sought after it came to light that his building was knocked up on the cheap without having to abide by costly regulations. The owners of the factory which was on the higher floors of the 8 storey building have been arrested. The building developed huge cracks and vibrations were felt and creaking and bangs were heard the day before the collapse. The workforce were forced into work the day of the collapse by the factory owners under threat of the sack which in Bangladesh is very often a death sentence in itself.
Only last November 117 garment workers employed at the Tazreen fashions factory who were crowded into a chained and locked Bangladeshi factory died as a fire swept through the building. The disaster at the RanaPlaza shows clearly that nothing much has changed since the Tazreen fire.
Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers Rights Consortium, a monitoring group in Washington, correctly observed soon after the latest carnage that the textile industry in Bangladesh works under intense pressure from multinationals, with suppliers jostling for business. He added: ” The insanity of ordering workers to go back into the building was very much a product of a well-founded belief that if [factories] allow delivery to slip a day or prices to rise a penny, their western customers will leave “.
The export-orientated textile industry in Bangladesh is worth $19bn a year and offers huge opportunities for making vast sums of profits by imperialist corporations, who own various clothing brands. It can only make the fabulous profits by denying the 3.6 million workers in this industry the most basic of rights in terms of health provision, decent pay, safety regulations, building construction standards, collective bargaining and trade union rights. Last year, Aminul Islam, a young trade unionist who successfully led the fight for doubling wages in 2010, was murdered; his killers have thus far not been tracked down, and labour activists rightly believe that his murder was meant to serve as a warning to other would-be champions of workers’ rights.
In its search for maximum profit, there is no crime that monopoly capital will not commit. The deaths of masses of workers at the altar of capitalist profits is normal business, no matter what hypocritical statements about ethical business practices their representatives mouth, no matter how many crocodile tears they pretend to shed over such disasters as the one in Bangladesh.
Doubtless, in order to continue their criminal exploits, the imperialist enterprises need to recruit stooges from the local ruling class. This they easily do by disgorging a small portion of their super profits to these stooges. Thus, we find that ten per cent of the members of Bangladesh parliament are direct owners of the close to 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh and therefore have direct pecuniary incentives for turning a blind eye toward violation of the rights of workers – forcing down wages to the minimum and surrounding them with squalor and a dangerous work environment.
When a disaster, such as the one at Rana Plaza, strikes, the public are treated to the usual spectacle of passing the buck, with the local capitalists accusing the multi-nationals of putting unbearable price and delivery deadline pressures on them, and the multinationals, adopting a holier than though attitude, blaming the local capitalists for ignoring the high standards and ethical practices set for them.
What gets lost in the blame game is that, in the never-ending chase for maximum profit, capital walks over the corpses of tens of thousands of workers every year all over the globe. Only through the overthrow of this criminal system – capitalism – can humanity acquire a decent life, free from exploitation, destitution and war.
Lalkar sends its heartfelt condolences to the victims of the RanaPlaza tragedy, and expresses the hope that the working class and the masses of Bangladesh would turn their grief into a torrent of anger, which will sweep away the imperialist brigands and their stooges alike.