The new plan, it seems, is for Bangladesh to attempt to expand the base of workers that are represented by the government-backed unions. Labor Minister Khandker Mosharraf Hossain has announced his plans to get trade unions into the ready-made garment (RMG) industry. This would otherwise be good news for one of the most thoroughly exploited labor forces in the world, were it not for the fact that the unions are being set up to help the bosses keep production running rather than to help the workers advocate for their interests. This is how Hossain described the function of the new unions:
The minister also said that labour representatives could “play an effective role to stop unrest in the sector.”
He stressed the need for the reestablishment of discipline in the garments sector, saying that the country’s image has been tarnished due to recent workers’ unrest.
This is a nakedly opportunist move: grow the unions in order to ensure the interests of the factory owners. After all, according to the government, it’s because there are too few labor unions in the factories that the protests became violent (and not because of the sweatshop wages and conditions that persist in Bangladesh). It’s clearly designed to squeeze out the more radical sections of the union movement by making the government-backed unions larger and more “representative” (and thus completing the pincer action on the radicals who are already facing prosecution from the courts). I can’t imagine that the Bangladeshi textile workers will after having just engaged in some spectacular and dramatic protests easily accept the diktat of these new, more conservative unions, but it’s possible that they will be able to deliver some, meager benefits early on and thus confuse the issues that have united the workers thus far.