[Marxism] Bangladeshis Burn Factories to Protest Unsafe Conditions
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 26 15:01:13 MDT 2013
NY Times April 26, 2013
Bangladeshis Burn Factories to Protest Unsafe Conditions
By JULFIKAR ALI MANIK and JIM YARDLEY
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Thousands of garment workers rampaged through
industrial areas of the capital of Bangladesh on Friday, smashing
vehicles with bamboo poles and setting fire to at least two factories in
violent protests ignited by a deadly building collapse this week that
has killed at least 304 workers.
The protests came as rescue teams spent a third day searching for
survivors in the rubble of the building, the Rana Plaza, in a suburb of
the capital, Dhaka. Officials reported that 72 people were pulled out
alive, a rare bit of good news in what is already considered the
deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry — with a death
toll expected to keep rising.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the arrests of the owner of Rana
Plaza, as well as the owners of four garment factories that were
operating on the upper floors of the eight-story building. Pressure also
mounted on Western clothing brands that rely heavily on Bangladesh to
manufacture their products; labor activists have found labels inside the
wreckage for clothes being made for JC Penney, Cato Fashions, the
British retailer Primark, and other clothing brands.
A special government committee has been appointed to investigate the
accident and questions are already arising about why more than 3,000
employees were working there when the building collapsed on Wednesday
morning. Cracks had been discovered in the structure a day earlier, and
police officials and industry leaders say they had asked the factory
bosses to stop work until the building had been inspected.
“I wouldn’t call it an accident,” the government’s information minister,
Hasanul Haque Inu, told Bangladeshi journalists. “I would say it’s a
Friday’s violent protests ricocheted between different industrial
sections of Dhaka as garment workers took to the streets to vent their
fury. Many of the protesters demanded the death penalty for Sohel Rana,
the owner of the building, as well as the owners of the garment
factories on the upper floors. More than 150 vehicles were reported
damaged, and some protesters burned two factories.
In Narayanganj, an industrial district near the capital, protesters
vandalized at least five garment factories and clashed with the police.
Ten people were injured and nearly two dozen workers were arrested on
vandalism charges after demonstrations halted traffic on a major road.
Throughout the capital region, many motorists chose to stay off the road
to avoid the protesters.
Meanwhile, labor groups in the United States on Friday distributed
photos showing that they had discovered garments with labels from JC
Penney and El Corte inglés, the Spanish retailer, at the site of the
collapse. Seeking to press American retailers to do more to assure
factory safety in Bangladesh, dozens of worker advocates held protests
on Thursday at Gap’s headquarters in San Francisco and at a Walmart
store in Renton, Wash.
Labor activists and human rights groups called on retailers and global
brands to help pay for programs to improve factory safety and upgrade
fire prevention equipment, a need underscored by a November fire that
killed 112 workers making shorts and sweaters for export. Activists say
that spending about $600 million per year for five years could bankroll
sweeping improvements to the country’s 5,000 garment factories — noting
that global brands could finance such a program by agreeing to pay an
additional 10 cents per garment to the more than 6 billion garments
exported each year.
Leaders of Bangladesh’s two most powerful garment industry trade groups
announced on Friday that factories in their association would close for
the weekend so that workers could aid in the rescue efforts at Rana
Plaza. Atiqul Islam, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers
and Exporters Association, called on the owner of Rana Plaza and the
owners of the factories inside the building to surrender to the authorities.
Mr. Islam also said that the trade group would hire engineers in coming
months to examine the structural stability of all the country’s garment
factories. Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi military had established a command
center near Rana Plaza to coordinate rescue efforts. Teams of soldiers,
paramilitary police and ordinary citizens were carefully digging through
the rubble, sometimes with their bare hands.
Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, Steven Greenhouse from New York
and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.
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