Bangladesh fire tragedy

The inhuman face of imperialist globalization revealed starkly

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza, a building complex on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, collapsed. Four days later, the wreckage of the building caught fire, even when rescue workers were trying to recover the remaining workers trapped under the building. According to reports received till May 9, 2013, over 900 women and men workers have been confirmed dead in this terrible disaster. According to official reports, over 5000 workers were working in the building in numerous garment export sweat shops producing internationally known brands marketed in North America and Europe at the time.

Massive protest actions have been reported from all over Bangladesh. Lakhs of garment industry workers of Bangladesh have participated in these protests. Owners and managers of the 4500 garment factories operating in the country were forced to shut down their factories during April 27-28, in the face of the unprecedented protests of workers. However, the anger of the workers again erupted when the factories tried to reopen on April 29, 2013, with massive protest rallies and repeated clashes between workers and police in numerous towns of Bangladesh including Savar, Dhaka, Gazipur and Chittagong. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporting country.

According to reports, the building had developed cracks several days before the collapse and this had been pointed out by the workers to the owners and the authorities. Instead of addressing the workers concerns, the authorities had declared the building “safe”, just a day before the collapse. While the protesting workers demanded death to the owner of the building, and the authorities who had certified the building as “safe”, the Bangladesh government on one hand tried to crush the workers protests, and on other began pleading with the imperialist countries not to blacklist its garment export industry. It may be recalled that what happened in the Rana Plaza was but the latest in a series of brutal “accidents” that has engulfed Bangladesh. Last November a blaze at a factory making clothing for Walmart and other Western labels in Dhaka left 111 people dead, with survivors describing how fire exits were kept locked by site managers.

The Dhaka tragedy is a tragedy waiting to repeat all over the world, including in India. It is a reflection of the inhuman face of imperialist globalization. The imperialists are shifting production to whichever country offers cheap labour and low costs, irrespective of the human costs. The rulers of capitalist states like India, Bangladesh and others are openly declaring that the only way for growth is to sell their labour cheap, and to violate all labour laws. Laws relating to wages and working conditions are routinely violated, in order to ensure profits along the whole imperialist chain. The garment industry is a telling example of this.

“Low prices. Every Day. On everything” — is Wal-Mart’s new slogan which has replaced the old one in circulation since 2007 — “Save money. Live better”. This is also the unofficial slogan of all the big garment brands in North America and Europe.

This reveals the crux of the problem: in an effort to beat down prices and compete with each other, the imperialist retailers are demanding that the manufacturer supplies them garments at the lowest possible cost, in order that maximum profits can be made. The question arises -- where will the manufacturers from Bangladesh, or Tirupur or Gurgaon in India, in Sri Lanka or China cut costs, in order to compete with each other and bag orders?

The lone objective of the international buyers is to negotiate orders at the same price, if not less, as last year’s. And, for every year, it is always a done deal as an unofficial league of big buyers maintains an identical low price policy in negotiation.

In the whole chain of operations, there are suppliers of fabrics and accessories, there is the producer of the garments, and there is the international buyer. The garment maker in Bangladesh typically has no idea if the supplier is providing the fabrics and accessories at a competitive price and with reasonable quality. The international buyers control the fabrics or accessories on the pretext of quality control. The big buyers, in most cases, designate suppliers of their choice. The suppliers of fabrics and accessories are often sister concerns of the buyers. These buyers squeeze the manufacturers. They offer less and less rates for cutting and sewing. The garment maker typically has to operate within 20% of the negotiated price for sale, and the remaining portion is wherein the profits are made by the international buyer. Within this 20%, the manufacturer has to pay the salaries of workers, as well as take care of the overhead costs.

According to garment exporters in Bangladesh, they are making branded shirts for export at almost the same price as a decade ago. Costs of production have doubled in the past five years, but not the prices in orders. Increased exploitation, poorer working conditions, are the way the manufacturers try to make their profits, resulting in workers bearing the brunt of the cutthroat competition amongst the international retailers for cheapest prices. The manufacturer cuts the variable costs, mainly wages and production facility rent. The wages of garment workers in Bangladesh have risen very little in Bangladesh over the years. Furthermore, the manufacturer searches for the cheapest manufacturing facilities, disregarding safety norms.

Workers organizations throughout the world have long been demanding uniform safety standards for workers everywhere. They have exposed the hypocrisy of the capitalist states and the multinational companies on this question. They have demanded that the international buyers must be made responsible for paying for ensuring that safety standards are guaranteed in the producer countries. The terrible tragedy in Bangladesh has led to renewed international actions by workers organizations on this issue.

Governments like those of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are promoting the line that in order to ensure capitalist growth, the rights of workers including trade union rights, the eight hour working day, the safety standards, etc must be bartered away. They claim that this is the only way to ensure that the foreign imperialists will invest in India, or that India’s export market will grow. They claim that this is the only way to make Indian industry competitive in the world market. The working class of our country contemptuously rejects this logic, which is the logic of capitalists and imperialists. Why should workers pay with their lives to work more for less, just to satisfy the greed of native and foreign capitalists? The working class rejects the path of imperialist globalization. We must fight for globalization of the standards of the workers, so that workers in all countries have more or less similar conditions of work, and the capitalists and imperialists are not allowed to use the difference in conditions of workers to super exploit this or that section of workers in this or that country. This is what the tragedy of Bangladesh once again underscores. 

Texas fire: Criminal disregard for safety measures

On April 17, 2013 a fertilizer ware house burned and exploded in West, Texas, in the USA, killing 15 people. A spokesman for West Fertilizer Company and its parent, Adair Grain Inc., admitted that there were no fire sprinklers in the ware house. There were no firewalls and no water deluge systems. The fires detonated tons of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizer. As many as 60 homes, as well as a nursing home in the neighbourhood were severely damaged in the explosion, and over 150 people are believed to have been injured.

After the accident, it has been admitted that safety inspections were rare at the fertilizer company. This is extremely common in the US.

No federal agency determines how close a facility handling potentially dangerous substances can be to population centers. In many states, including Texas, many of these decisions are left up to local zoning authorities. And in Texas, the state's minimal approach to zoning puts plants just yards away from schools, houses and other populated areas, as was the case in West. This particular plant was less than 1000 yards from a school.

In their drive for maximum profits, capitalists worldwide look to intensify the exploitation of workers, and cutback on safety measures. The capitalist states, whether Bangladesh, India, China, or US, all have complete disregard for the safety and well being of the working people. Imperialist globalization is contributing the reduction of safety standards of workers the world over, as the capitalists use the threat of shifting their operations to another country or region with more lax safety measures. The struggle of workers for uniform safety standards and working conditions is thus a global struggle against the common enemy.

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Walmart    May 16-31 2013    Struggle for Rights    Rights     Popular Movements    

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