Bangladesh Walkout: 80% of Bangladesh’s Garment Workers Walk Out Of Work Today To Protest Horrible Working Conditions, Effectively Shutting Down Garment Factories Indefinitely
Bangladesh’s entire renowned garment manufacturing hub has been shut down indefinitely, after 80% of its workers walked off the job. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association announced its decision to close the almost 500 factories in the Ashulia industrial zone “to ensure the security of our factories,” the AFP reports. But the move was something of a fait accompli; almost no work had taken place there since the April 24 collapse of the nearby Rana Plaza building.
At the same time, three of the world’s biggest clothing purveyors—H&M, C&A, and Zara owner Inditex—signed a deal today legally obligating them to fund safety improvements for their Bangladesh factories, the New York Times reports. PVH, which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Izod, which already had a similar contract in place, will also sign on. Meanwhile, search for victims at the Rana building is set to wrap up today, Reuters reports, with the latest death toll clocking in at 1,127 people.
Actually, unregulated globalization—shorn of human sympathy and oblivious to persistent cruelties—is the road backwards. The creative tumult of our era, with its fantastic inventions and globalizing production, has reverted to ancient injustices—forms of exploitation that originated three centuries ago with the English industrial revolution. When new machines like textile looms displaced human labor, the seasoned workers were dismissed, their skills no longer valued. They were replaced in the factory by children and women—cheaper laborers without power or influence who toiled in ‘the dark satanic mills’ first described by the English poet William Blake. In our time, industrial capitalism has profitably employed the same exploitative routine but with an essential difference. Thanks to global supply chains, contemporary sweatshops with dismal wages and sordid working conditions are located on the other side of the world. The people are exploited in various ways but their cruel conditions cannot easily be seen by the American consumers who benefit from afar.
William Greider (via azspot)
A May Day message from Chris Floyd:
Modern politics can be hard to fathom, a bizarre mix of mind-bending complexities and bone-stupid banalities coming at us in a howling sandstorm of chaotic noise. How to sift the relentless, contradictory arcana of current events and make sense of it all? I find that a simple phrase helps thread the labyrinth – four little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:
Fuck Off And Die.
This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.
Of course, elite attitudes toward the lower orders have never been exactly tender; but in times past, a rather large number of sufficiently quiescent peasants and proles were required to create the wealth for plutocratic plundering and maintain the machinery of power and privilege. Thus some attention had to be paid to the rabble’s basic needs and even — occasionally – their pitiful aspirations for a more meaningful, more humane life for themselves, their families and their communities. But now the means of production (to borrow a phrase) are largely mechanized and digitized; you don’t need many warm bodies — and certainly not skilled or experienced or well-paid ones – to keep the money rolling in. And perhaps more importantly, the means of control — the technologies of violence and surveillance — are now vastly more powerful and pervasive and efficient than ever.
To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore — or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth — and the greasy mobility of global capital — those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die — and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.
And no need to worry about mass uprisings of the dispossessed, debt-ridden, insecure, angry, overwhelmed, isolated, media-dazed rabble. With hyper-militarized police forces, cameras on every corner, spies and provocateurs infesting every possible base of dissent, and gargantuan data-harvesters mining every public move and private click of the populace, repression is a piece of cake. And if by chance some pocket of protest does reach critical mass somewhere, your hi-tech, heavily armored goons can easily beat it, tase it and pepper-spray it into submission.
So the elites no longer need us or fear us. We are superfluous to their requirements. And their policies are now ever more nakedly geared to hammering this truth home.
The Great Crash of ’08 gave them the excuse to rip off the mask at last. For five years now, the iron hand of “austerity” has been pressed down hard upon ordinary people. We had no part in the criminal folly that caused the disaster — yet we are the ones left paying for it, in lost jobs, lost homes, lost services, lost freedoms, lost opportunities, and cramped, crippled, diminished lives. From the “progressive” Obama to the Tory toff Cameron to the pseudo-Socialist Hollande to the dour centrist Merkel — and all the other clowns, clerks and ciphers turning their self-proclaimed “great democracies” into cash cows for their cronies and controllers — the infliction of pain on ordinary people is the only game in town. ‘O my gosh,’ our leaders cry, throwing up their soft, unblemished hands, ‘there’s just no more money left, no money for your schools, your roads, your jobs, your pensions, your rights, your benefits, your elderly, your sick, your poor, your vulnerable. The money’s all gone, what can we do?’
But of course the money is not gone, not at all. A new study — by an inside man, James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey — shows that up to $32 trillion has been stashed away by the world’s elites in offshore accounts and other hidey-holes. Even a modest portion of this mountain of swag would completely alleviate the draconian “budget crises” and ludicrous “sequesters” that have been artificially imposed on nation after nation. All of the suffering, chaos, ruin and degradation being caused by these policies — all the “skin in the game” that’s being flayed from the backs of ordinary people — all of it is unnecessary. The money is there to solve these problems — if our leaders wanted to solve them.
But they don’t. For “austerity” isn’t designed to fix our problems; it is instead meant to be a permanent condition, a new normal, the endless, changeless natural order. (Just as the “emergency” of the “War on Terror” has now morphed into a permanent way of life.) It’s all out in the open. Obama is eagerly offering to slash the social compact to ribbons. Cameron is driving the poor and sick to their knees. The IMF is breeding Nazis in Greece. They’re not even pretending to care about anyone outside the golden circle anymore.
Fuck off and die: that’s it, that’s all they’ve got to say. The rest is show-biz — strip-tease and shell games — to fleece us of our last few coins as they shove us out the exit.
On Wednesday, April 24, a day after Bangladeshi authorities asked the owners to evacuate their garment factory that employed almost three thousand workers, the building collapsed. The building, Rana Plaza, located in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, produced garments for the commodity chain that stretches from the cotton fields of South Asia through Bangladesh’s machines and workers to the retail houses in the Atlantic world. Famous name brands were stitched here, as are clothes that hang on the satanic shelves of Wal-Mart. Rescue workers were able to save two thousand people as of this writing, with confirmation that over three hundred are dead. The numbers for the latter are fated to rise. It is well worth mentioning that the death toll in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City of 1911 was one hundred and forty six. The death toll here is already twice that. This “accident” comes five months (November 24, 2012) after the Tazreen garment factory fire that killed at least one hundred and twelve workers.
The list of “accidents” is long and painful. In April 2005, a garment factory in Savar collapsed, killing seventy-five workers. In February 2006, another factory collapsed in Dhaka, killing eighteen. In June 2010, a building collapsed in Dhaka, killing twenty-five. These are the “factories” of twenty-first century globalization – poorly built shelters for a production process geared toward long working days, third rate machines, and workers whose own lives are submitted to the imperatives of just-in-time production. Writing about the factory regime in England during the nineteenth century, Karl Marx noted, “But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its wear-wolf hunger for surplus labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working-day. It usurps the time for growth, development and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight…. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by reducing it of its fertility” (Capital, Chapter 10).
These Bangladesh factories are a part of the landscape of globalization that is mimicked in the factories along the US-Mexico border, in Haiti, in Sri Lanka, and in other places that opened their doors to the garment industry’s savvy use of the new manufacturing and trade order of the 1990s. Subdued countries that had neither the patriotic will to fight for their citizens nor any concern for the long-term debilitation of their social order rushed to welcome garment production. The big garment producers no longer wanted to invest in factories – they turned to sub-contractors, offering them very narrow margins for profit and thereby forcing them to run their factories like prison-houses of labour. The sub-contracting regime allowed these firms to deny any culpability for what was done by the actual owners of these small factories, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of the cheap products without having their consciences stained with the sweat and blood of the workers. It also allowed the consumers in the Atlantic world to buy vast amount of commodities, often with debt-financed consumption, without concern for the methods of production. An occasionally outburst of liberal sentiment turned against this or that company, but there was no overall appreciation of the way the Wal-Mart type of commodity chain made normal the sorts of business practices that occasioned this or that campaign.
Bangladeshi workers have not been as prone as the consumers in the Atlantic world. As recently as June 2012, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone, outside Dhaka, protested for higher wages and better working conditions. For days on end, these workers closed down three hundred factories, blocking the Dhaka-Tangali highway at Narasinghapur. The workers earn between 3000 taka ($35) and 5,500 taka ($70) a month; they wanted a raise of between 1500 taka ($19) and 2000 taka ($25) per month. The government sent in three thousand policemen to secure the scene, and the Prime Minister offered anodyne entreaties that she would look into the matter. A three-member committee was set up, but nothing substantial came of it.
Aware of the futility of negotiations with a government subordinated to the logic of the commodity chain, Dhaka exploded in violence as more and more news from the Rana Building emerged. Workers have shut down the factory area around Dhaka, blocking roads and smashing cars. The callousness of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association (BGMEA) adds fire to the workers’ anger. After the protests in June, BGMEA head Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin accused the workers of being involved in “some conspiracy.” He argued that there is “no logic for increasing the wages of the workers.” This time, BGMEA’s new president Atiqul Islam suggested that the problem was not the death of the workers or the poor conditions in which workers toil but “the disruption in production owing to unrest and hartals [strikes].” These strikes, he said, are “just another heavy blow to the garment sector.” No wonder those who took to the streets have so little faith in the sub-contractors and the government.
… In the Atlantic world, meanwhile, self-absorption over the wars on terror and on the downturn in the economy prevent any genuine introspection over the mode of life that relies upon debt-fueled consumerism at the expense of workers in Dhaka. Those who died in the Rana building are victims not only of the malfeasance of the sub-contractors, but also of twenty-first century globalisation. [more]
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr stated in letters to the Michigan Employee Relations Commission (MERC) that it is within his power to end collective bargaining in the city. Specifically, Orr claimed he is under no legal obligation to participate in bargaining or compulsory arbitration with public safety employees, including police, firefighters and emergency medical responders.
Just last week, Orr declared a new contract would be imposed on 900 firefighters effective July 1. Although no specifics were released about the contract, Orr intends to impose deep cuts on both the employees of the city and the population as a whole in order to pay off the wealthy bondholders and banks that hold Detroit’s debt and derivative contracts.
While the unions have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to impose concessions on their members, Orr and the political establishment are well aware of workers’ anger and opposition to additional cuts.
The significance of the latest communication to MERC is to preempt any legal appeals by the unions. It is in line with the notice sent by Mayor Dave Bing earlier in the month to the same agency demanding the revocation of the authority of state arbitration panels to hold hearings or issue rulings on appeals made by Detroit police unions and those of emergency medical technicians.
Outlining his contempt for state laws, Orr declared that because Detroit is in receivership, he is not subject to Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act, a 1947 law that legalized collective bargaining between unions and local governments and school districts. He claimed that the city under his management is “authorized to advance this position and seek…any and all relief available by law.” This reference to the law is specifically to the emergency manager law, which he claims to supersede any other laws in existence.
This EM law, Public Act (PA) 436, was pushed through by the Republican-controlled state legislature after voters defeated a similar measure in November. The law—which received bipartisan support from state treasurer Andy Dillon—is being used by Wall Street to run roughshod over any state laws or city charters, which in any way present an obstacle to gutting pensions, privatization and selling off of public assets.
The installation of an emergency manager in Detroit is a thoroughly reactionary measure, which is incompatible with any democratic norms. The same dictatorial measures are being imposed by the global banks in Greece, where the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank are seeking to abolish the right to public education, which is currently enshrined in the Greek constitution.
The measures to be taken under Orr’s authority include the slashing of budgets, reopening of labor agreements to unilaterally impose concessions and shutting down or privatizing city departments and services. They have one purpose: to enhance and enrich the wealthy speculators and bondholders. The financial elite has already made hundreds of millions from the crushing level of debt the city incurred as a result of decades of industrial downsizing, federal and state cuts and the loss of tax revenue following the crash of 2008. [++]
Thousands of garment factory workers in Bangladesh have protested for the second day over the deaths of more than 250 workers in a building collapse, even as rescuers struggled to pull out hundreds of survivors believed to be still trapped inside the rubble.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday as protesters attacked factories and smashed vehicles, forcing many garment factories to shut down operations.
“The situation is very volatile. Hundreds of thousands of workers have joined the protests. We fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them,” M Asaduzzaman, an officer in the police control room, told the AFP news agency.
He said some of the protesters were armed with bamboo sticks and their actions had forced factories at Gazipur, just outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, to close for the day.
An estimated 2,000 people had been rescued in two days, at least half of them injured, but up to 1,000 people remained unaccounted for, Reuters news agency reported.
Widespread anger has been fuelled by revelations that factory bosses forced the 3,000-strong work force to return to the building on Wednesday despite cracks appearing in the building the day before.
It prompted new criticism of Western companies who were accused by activists of placing profit before safety by sourcing their products from the country despite its shocking track record of deadly disasters. [++]
Welcome to the underbelly of technology. Companies electronically time your potty breaks, they electronically measure your output, they spy on you with cameras, they force you to attend indoctrination meetings and film you as you listen, and they send out emails threatening to fire you if you show up late to work. Things have shifted so dramatically, management now expects to run the table every time they pick up a pool cue.
Which brings us to the role of labor unions. It’s no accident that this draconian work environment coincides with the precipitous drop in union membership. It’s no accident and no coincidence, because the one thing a labor union brings to the workplace is resistance—resistance in the form of worker representation and adult supervision.
A union contract requires a company to follow certain rules. And despite all their squawking, if management didn’t fully understand the rules and, in truth, didn’t see the basic wisdom and fairness in them, they wouldn’t have signed the contract in the first place. I’ve negotiated five of them, and believe me, only a stupid or wildly reckless management team is going to shoot themselves in the foot.
Yes, union jobs offer about 15-percent higher wages and benefits, and yes, union safety programs are infinitely superior to non-union programs, and these by themselves are tremendous advantages to becoming a union member. But a union also offers something less tangible. A union contract provides an employee with dignity—with the expectation of coming to work and being treated with respect. And that is no small thing.
If anyone is able to name another institution that can provide America’s working class with the built-in dignity and economic advantages a union can, I’d love to hear it, because it ain’t the federal government and it ain’t philanthropic organizations. This is all about resistance. Without resistance, workers have no leverage. Resistance is everything. And without labor unions, the bullies will continue to win.
A quarter of the American population is now engaged in ‘guard labor’—defending property, supervising work, or otherwise keeping their fellow Americans in line.
We should add, parenthetically, that the term ‘working class’ is hardly used in the dominant discourse in the United States today. Many workers conceive of themselves as part of the ‘middle class’ because they have come to think of their income as providing them with a ‘middle-class lifestyle’—and because they consider themselves above ‘the poor,’ who have been converted in the ruling ideology into the entire lower class (or underclass), leaving out the working class altogether. Nevertheless, from a perspective that focuses on class as a power relation the working class rightly includes all those who work for wages or salaries and are not in a management or predominantly supervisory position—and who are also not high-level professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Some members of the working class might be paid very well, but they still have the same basic relationship of worker to capital or ‘the boss.’
New York City is poised to mandate that thousands of companies provide paid time off for sick employees, bolstering a national movement that has been resisted by wary business leaders.
A legislative compromise reached on Thursday night represents a raw display of political muscle by a coalition of labor unions and liberal activists who overcame fierce objections from New York’s business-minded mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, and his allies in the corporate world.
The deal required a high-profile concession from a leading candidate to succeed Mr. Bloomberg, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, who had single-handedly blocked action on the sick-leave issue for three years, arguing that it would inflict damage on the city’s fragile economy.
The legislation would eventually force companies with at least 15 employees to give full-time workers five compensated days off a year when they are ill, a requirement that advocates said would allow much of the city’s labor force to stay home from work without fear of losing a day’s wage — or worse, a job. The advocates said the legislation would provide paid sick leave for one million New Yorkers who do not currently have such benefits.
Only a few years ago, analysts were warning that Mexico was at risk of becoming a “failed state.” These days, the Mexican government appears to be doing a much better PR job.
Despite the devastating and ongoing drug war, the story now goes that Mexico is poised to become a “middle-class” society. As establishment apostle Thomas Friedman put it in the New York Times, Mexico is now one of “the more dominant economic powers in the 21st century.”
But this spin is based on superficial assumptions. The small signs of economic recovery in Mexico are grounded largely on the return of maquiladora factories from China, where wages have been increasing as Mexican wages have stagnated. Under-cutting China on labor costs is hardly something to celebrate. This trend is nothing but the return of the same “free-trade” model that has failed the Mexican people for 20 years.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was ratified in 1993 and went into effect in 1994, was touted as the cure for Mexico’s economic “backwardness.” Promoters argued that the trilateral trade agreement would dig Mexico out of its economic rut and modernize it along the lines of its mighty neighbor, the United States.
The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as ‘discipline.’ Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace — surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching -in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn’t have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.
Bob Black, The Abolition of Work (via anarchist—anthropology)
Now we’re being serious. ($9/hr? Please.):
“If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour,” she said, speaking to Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of minimum wage. “So my question is Mr. Dube, with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn’t go to the worker.”
Dube went on to note that if minimum wage incomes had grown over that period at the same pace as it had for the top 1 percent of income earners, the minimum wage would actually be closer to $33 an hour than the current $7.25.
It didn’t appear that Warren was actually trying to make the case for a $22 an hour minimum wage, but rather highlighting the results of a recent study that showed flat minimum wage growth over the past 40-plus years coinciding with surging inequality across a number of economic indicators.
Warren went on to argue that raising the federal minimum wage to over $10 an hour in incremental steps over the next two years — a cause championed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address and since taken up in the Senate — would not be as damaging for businesses as some critics have argued.