A Bangladeshi woman survivor is lifted out of the rubble by rescuers at the site of a building that collapsed on Wednesday 24 April in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
In Greece, where unemployment has hit 27 percent, the fascist Golden Dawn party is helping to divert popular anger against capitalism into divisive xenophobic hatred of ‘foreigners stealing our jobs’.
When some 200 migrant agricultural labourers, mostly from Bangladesh, came to demand unpaid wages going back six months or more, at least 28 of them were shot and injured by gun-wielding thugs. Three of the foremen at the strawberry plantation in Nea Manolada where they worked are being blamed for the murderous assault.
This racist violence is the most recent in a string of similar attacks against Asian and African workers in Greece.
And as if to clarify what might drive Bangladeshis to leave their homes and expose themselves to such racist poison in the first place, the true face of imperialist superexploitation has been on shameful display in Bangladesh itself, with the death of over 1,000 textile workers, mostly women, when the Rana Plaza complex in which they worked collapsed.
Some 3,000 people were estimated to be working there at the time of collapse, despite the fact that only days earlier large cracks had been detected and reported. Workers in the building were told to continue coming in to work on pain of dismissal.
Back in November, similar disregard by factory owners for the lives of their workers had been shown in the Tazreen factory fire. On that occasion workers were told it was a false alarm and ordered back to work. When they tried to escape, they were blocked by a locked fire door. That fire claimed 112 lives.
The grim conclusion is that whether Bangladeshi workers stay at home or travel abroad, the end result is the same: superexploitation at best, and at worst an early grave. The immediate owners of the collapsed factory may be justly pilloried, as may the thugs in Greece who shot the strawberry-pickers, but in neither case will the real criminal be called to account – capitalism itself.
Whatever happens to the local factory bosses, we can be sure that the monopoly capitalists running Primark and Matalan will not be required to answer for the lives of those who died stitching their garments. At least, not yet.
This article is part of the industrial report that was presented at the 12 January meeting of the CPGB-ML central committee.
Fire rages at the Tazreen factory in Savar.
The exploitation of proletarians in Bangladesh, helping deliver the superprofits into which imperialism dips to buy off the labour aristocracy at home, is conducted in a more straightforwardly murderous fashion.
Documents and logos retrieved from the factory blaze that killed 112 garment workers and injured many more indicated that the sweatshop death trap was producing clothes for Walmart’s ‘Faded Glory’ line, as well as for other US and foreign companies.
November’s fire at the nine-storey Tazreen factory in Savar, north west of Dhaka, started in a warehouse on the ground floor that was used to store yarn, and quickly spread to the upper floors. Though most workers had left for the day when the fire started, 600 were still inside working overtime, and it was these who were trapped.
About a hundred died inside the building and another dozen lost their lives trying to escape from the upper storeys. One survivor, Mohammad Ripu, tried to run out of the building when the fire alarm rang but was stopped by managers, who said: “Nothing happened. The fire alarm had just gone out of order. Go back to work.” When people ran for the exit door they found it had been locked from the outside.
Tazreen was not a one-off tragedy. Since 2005, around 700, mostly female, garment workers have perished in similar fires, revealing a systematic flouting of safety rules that amounts to a policy of calculated manslaughter.
These corporate murders, blamed on local sweatshop bosses but carried out to feed monopoly capital’s insatiable hunger for cheap labour, are inseparable from the intense superexploitation that is essential to the country’s annual export of $18bn worth of garments.
Workers are fighting back courageously against this oppression, organising strikes to demand better wages and conditions. One union leader was found tortured and killed outside Dhaka last year, but the struggle will only intensify.
See also: Victory to the garment workers of Bangladesh!