The Daily Star is reporting that two more labor leaders were arrested yesterday. Babul Akhter (of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation) and Kalpana Akhter (of the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidairty) were both arrested on charges of instigating the strike for higher wages. The media is also implying that they were acting under orders from “outside agitators” (i.e. international labor unions) in order to destabilize the garment industry. The police have been relying on video footage and photographs to target the leadership of the strike and arrest them after the fact.
This is a continuation of a week-long campaign of intimidation and vilification of the garment workers’ unions that has been taking place in Bangladesh since the strikes that happened earlier this month. The repression is clearly being demanded by the owners of the textile mills, in part because they fear that rising wages and a more militant trade union eliminates their advantage over textile mills in neighboring countries, especially India.
But in an amazing show of solidarity, young workers, teachers, artists, and writers formed a human chain at Shahbagh in Dhaka to demand that the garment workers receive a decent wage and that the police stop the “capture and torture” of garment workers and union leaders. According to the activists at that rally, more than 4000 workers have been arrested and there are widespread reports of police torture.