The World Socialist Website has a piece on the garment workers’ strike in Bangladesh. They make an interesting observation:
At a meeting in Dhaka in May, CPB president Manzurul Ahsan Khan appealed to the government to use the unions as the means for policing garment workers and stopping strikes. He warned that “unless employers and government ensure unfettered trade union rights and encourage a culture of negotiations, bipartite and tripartite settlement, sporadic unrest and wild-cat strikes can’t be stopped”.
Khan criticised the government for doing “very little for this rising [garment] sector which accounts for the biggest share in industrial export. The new entrepreneurs of the garment industry face obstacles at different steps of import, export and transportation.” Appealing for closer collaboration, he called for “workers and owners of industries to build up joint struggle against all obstacles on the way to higher production”.
Khan’s statements can only be interpreted as an offer to the government and employers to assist Bangladesh’s key garment industry in the face of falling markets in Europe and the US, and intensifying competition from other low-wage countries. During the fiscal year from July 2009 to July 2010, Bangladesh earned $US12.5 billion from garment exports, which accounted for 80 percent of foreign exchange.
I am not surprised that the Stalinist Communist Party of Bangladesh could say such a thing (it sounds like boilerplate rhetoric from any of a number of 5 year plans), but I am a little surprised that this is the union that the World Socialist Website wants to single out for this particular critique. The CPB may very well want to play a more decisive role in policing labor, but right now it is tiny and the government doesn’t need it to play this role. In fact, the Awami League has its own unions that have been able to confuse the issue and divide the workers.
For instance, Fibre2Fashion (an industry newspaper) writes:
Trade union leaders said that, post the recent informal agreement with government, garment factory owners, and labourers, tranquillity has been re-established in industrial hubs like Ashulia and Narayanganj.
They are certainly not referring to the CPB union, but to unions like NGWF who are actually in a position to deliver labor peace since they are larger and more reliable: they depend on the government not to attack their leadership in exchange for discipline. Leaders of the CPB are currently sitting in jail for their involvement in the protests.
As I read it, the current maneuver of the CPB involves working with the other left unions to push the protest movement forward. It’s almost a certainty that the endgame of the CPB is not workers’ control of the industry (settling for a share of power in Bangladesh), but it does seem that there are bigger obstacles to the development of an independent radical movement of workers in Bangladesh than the CPB. And in the current mood, it seems that the radicals in Bangladesh should work alongside the CPB to build the protest movement as large as possible, while organizing independently, without a trace of naivete about the legacy of the CPB.