Bangladesh-based textile manufacturers are looking to take advantage of the flooding in Pakistan to capture orders that the Pakistani manufacturers cannot fulfill, but it is already facing problems. The infrastructure in Bangladesh (especially the electricity grid and the ports) is not set up for massive expansion in goods delivery. Pakistani manufacturers face the double whammy of having to deal with the floods and the destruction of the cotton crop this year, making it all but impossible for them to meet the demands of the international market. Just a few weeks ago, both Pakistan and Bangladesh were rocked by massive textile workers’ strikes – it remains to be seen what effect this shift will have on the labor movements in both countries. Ripples will also be felt in the textile industries in Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where the impact of Bangladesh’s low wages are felt acutely.
At the same time, now that the workers are back to work in Bangladesh and the more radical unions have been pretty thoroughly routed, the bosses are back to the old tricks. 343 factory owners have submitted a petition against the minimum wage hike that was passed in late July (but won’t take effect until November). The Minimum Wage Board, it seems, is legally obligated to conduct more hearings on the issue because of the number of objections filed by manufacturers. The BGMEA, one of the main representatives of the textile manufacturers at the Minimum Wage Board, refused to rein in the dissident factory owners, suggesting that it would be more than happy to let the minimum wage fall backwards. The more moderate unions, though, are digging their heels in over the minimum wage increase.
The coercive attacks against Bangladeshi workers continue: many labor leaders are in hiding, several have been arrested, and more than 5000 workers have been fired. Chillingly, the police are raiding the homes of labor activists nightly and harassing the slums in which most textile workers live. Activists in the United States organized a protest outside of the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington, DC. They are demanding a release of the labor leaders who were arrested after the textile workers strikes. I was personally excited to see that the United Students Against Sweatshops, a group that I was in a decade ago, is still active. Oh, and the EU was disappointed that the minimum wage increase hasn’t been implemented, though I’m not sure that this will mean much.