Yesterday, the Bangladeshi government raised the minimum wage of Bangladeshi garment workers. Today, garment workers are out in the streets protesting that the increase (80% … to about $1.40/day — well below the international poverty line) is not enough to meet basic minimum needs.
The image is taken from the AFP article on Bangladesh.
The workers have set up barricades, roadblocks, set fire to cars, and marched through the streets. The mainstream press is predictably up in arms over the actions of the workers (calling it in most instances a “rampage”). They’ve been less inclined to notice the excesses of the Bangladeshi police or of the bosses (who were lobbying to resist even this pay increase another 4 months — giving some of them enough time to move or threaten to move). Textiles are one of Bangladesh’s largest exports and as an industry, textile factories employee more than 3.5 million workers in Bangladesh. This accounts for the vacillating position of the Awami League which has to rely on workers for votes but has to do the bidding of the factory owners if it wants to keep the economy afloat in the short-term.
So, you then have the scripted shedding of crocodile tears and hand-wringing from the Labour Minister Khandaker Mosharaff Hossain who said that this pay increase was the best that the government could manage. The Awami League tried to position itself as the populist friend of the working class, but is so closely tied to the interest of big business that it could only offer the workers a pittance. This is a particularly dangerous game for the AL as it is also conducting an all-out assault against its parliamentary rivals the BNP and Bangladeshi Jamaat-e-Islami.
Protests were broken up with the use of tear gas and batons. There are reports of several injuries.
Part of the reason for the increased militancy of the Bangladeshi textile workers is the high cost of basic commodities and the complete lack of reliable electricity.
There is a split inside of the Bangladeshi labor movement, with the government backed unions trying to hold back the protests and demands for greater wages, but the recent protests seem to indicate that their ability to exert any serious control over the workers may be slipping. The government backed unions were a part of the negotiations to arrive at the new minimum wage levels — the leftist unions were completely iced out of the discussion. The government has also been waging a concerted attack on some of the most militant unions, hoping to intimidate those that were arguing for the most aggressive demands