Bangladesh workers strike back

$38 a month!

That’s the monthly minimum wage for more than 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, most of whom are women. Many children also work in these factories. This is the lowest clothing industry pay in the world, less than half the pay in many other formerly colonized countries.

Bangladesh, with a population of 160 million, is the second-largest clothing- producing country after China. Global corporations like H&M and Walmart reap billions in profits off the backs of these workers.

$38 a month! Less than 22 cents an hour. And that’s just for a 40-hour work week. Bangladesh workers often endure forced overtime with no increase in pay.

They slave away in some of the most unsafe sweatshops in the world. A fire last November killed more than 120 workers. A factory building collapse last April killed almost 1,200 more, nearly all women.

In September a collection of transnational corporations announced they were refusing to offer any compensation to the victims of this terrible “accident.” (Reuters.com, Sept. 23) In their eyes, the lives of thousands of workers are a necessary sacrifice on the altar of super-profits.

$38 a month! Less than $1.76 a day.

It is no surprise, then, that more than 50,000 garment workers shut down the factories and poured into the streets beginning Sept. 21 demanding an immediate increase in pay — to an extremely modest $100 a month. Authorities were forced to close more than 100 factories in Dhaka’s industrial districts of Gazipur and Narayanganj.

“We work to survive, but we can’t even cover our basic needs,” a protesting woman worker told Reuters.

The enraged workers blocked major roads and hurled shards of bricks at police, who fired rubber bullets and tear gas and attacked the crowds of workers with clubs. Cars were overturned and set afire. Factory equipment was reportedly damaged. Dozens were injured, including police. The workers remain on strike.

Workers even seized weapons and ammunition from government guard stations and from a paramilitary group known as the Village Guards in Gazipur.

$38 a month!

Company owners expressed their fear of missing shipments to the U.S. and European companies they and the Bangladesh government dutifully serve. They have offered workers a 20 percent increase in pay, which the workers have rejected as “inhuman and humiliating.” And no wonder. Their pay would go up to $45.60 a month, only 27 cents an hour. They would still be the lowest-paid garment workers in the world.

$38 a month!

This obscene pay rate is the very essence of the global economic and social system that is imperialism. “It is the ugliest race to the bottom because the financial crisis in America and Europe means that people are getting very scared of buying expensive things,” said Sanjiv Prandita, executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Center. (U.S. News, Sept. 24)

$38 a month!

By forcing workers around the world to compete for jobs at the lowest rate of pay, these parasites squeeze greater and greater profits from the workers’ production. The only answer to this nightmare is class solidarity. We must stand together with our struggling sisters and brothers in Bangladesh and elsewhere and drive this for-profit system out of existence.