ML Update 50 / 2012

MLUpdate

A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Vol. 15, No. 50, 04 – 10 DECEMBER 2012

Inferno in Bangladesh Garment Factory:

Death Traps of Globalisation

On November 25th this year, a fire engulfed a garment factory – Tazreen Fashions – outside Dhaka, claiming the lives of 120 workers, who were killed because the exits were locked, preventing their escape. Among the charred remains, were found clothes with the labels of leading global retailers, including the American Wal-Mart, Sears, and Disney.

The Tazreen fire exposed the ugly underbelly of globalization, whereby the giant clothing brands and retail chains outsource their production to benefit from cheap labour in Asian and South Asian countries. Appallingly exploitative conditions of labour, which would no longer be countenanced in the advanced capitalist countries, are the norm in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India. The Tazreen fire is not a one-off tragedy; since 2006, over 500 Bangladeshi garment workers have reportedly been killed in factory fires. In September, two factory fires in Pakistan claimed the lives of more than 300 workers.

Bangladesh’s garment industry has seen fierce struggles by the workers against the low wages and exploitative conditions. In December 2010, a fire broke out in a garment factory, claiming 24 lives, in which workers were forced to jump from the ninth floor of a 10-storey building because management had locked the exits. Police fired on the garment workers’ agitation that month, killing four workers, injuring hundreds, and arresting the leaders. The Ashulia industrial zone, in which the Tazreen factory stands, has witnessed repeated eruptions of workers’ protests. In June this year, workers of Ashulia campaigned for a hike in the abysmally low wages, and the owners responded by shutting down all 350 factories in the zone. Following the Tazreen fire, thousands of workers hit the streets in militant protests, forcing factories to close, blockading highways, and clashing with the police, who unleashed batons and tear gas.

The global brands amass huge profits by sourcing clothes from countries where workers work for low wages, in exploitative and unsafe conditions. In the dense web of contractors and sub-contractors, responsibility can be easily shrugged off. The government of Bangladesh colludes in the exploitative conditions, unleashing severe repression on workers’ protests.

In March 1911, 140 garment workers, most of them women, were killed in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York. Finding themselves locked in the burning factory, women jumped to their death from the windows. 100 years later, the same macabre scene is reenacted – but this time the death-trap factories have moved to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The ongoing resistance of the Bangladeshi garment workers calls for our wholehearted solidarity and support. From Karachi to Dhaka and Delhi to Colombo, the ghettos and death-traps of globalization will have to be challenged head-on by united waves of South Asian resistance.

Below we reproduce a poem by Annie Meharg penned on the hundreth anniversary of the 1911 tragedy at the Traingle Factory in the United States

The Triangle Factory Fire

March 25, 1911

There are thousands whose fingers thread needles today

With long hours, bad conditions and not enough pay;

Young girls and young women, heads bent at machines

Sewing trousers and blouses and dresses and jeans;

Overworked, underpaid. But who cares? And who knows

Of the lives of the people who’re sewing our clothes?

It was March 25, year of 1911

In the Triangle Factory in downtown Manhattan,

In the famous Asch building, floors ten, nine and eight

Where the seamstresses sewed clothes from early ‘til late.

There were five hundred workers, some only thirteen,

In the immigrant workers’ American dream.

The nightmare broke out in the late afternoon

When a fire in a scrap bin spread fast through the room.

The terrified workers jumped up and took flight

As from table to table the cloth caught alight.

In the smoke and the flames they were panicked and shocked

And they ran for the doors. But the doors were all locked.

Like prisoners! The workers were starting to choke

In the fumes and the flames and the heat and the smoke.

A girl ran to the firehose then started to shout

When she turned on the valve but no water came out.

Some women were screaming as flames licked their hair;

Others ran to the fire escape gasping for air.

The fire escape started to buckle and groan –

Then it broke from the wall and the people were thrown

Down into the street, splattered dead where they landed –

Whilst still up above them their colleagues were stranded –

To jump or to burn was their terrible choice

As they stared without help, without hope, without voice.

The firemen were quick, bold, courageous and tough

But they knew that their ladder was not long enough –

Women swayed at the windows with flames in their hair

And then like human torches they fell through the air –

The safety nets tore, bodies smashed in the street.

The paralyzed bystanders never forgot.

Sixty-two jumped or fell that day from the ninth floor

And the smoke and the flames swallowed up many more.

It was all so unnecessary – what was it for?

Why should sewing a shirt be as dangerous as war?

Next day in the paper the New Yorkers read

That one hundred and forty-six workers were dead.

Dead. Killed by neglect. Each young mother, wife, daughter.

By lack of extinguishers, hoses and water,

Inadequate fire escapes. By the locked doors

Which made workers prisoners on those three floors.

One hundred and forty-six families were wrecked

By men blinded by profit; inhuman neglect.

In 2011 it’s not in Manhattan;

It’s further away. Is it easier forgotten?

Disasters in clothes factories in Pakistan,

In China, in Bangladesh, in Vietnam.

People work dawn to dusk earning less than they need;

Desperate women and men with a family to feed.

There are thousand whose fingers thread needles today

With long hours, bad conditions and not enough pay;

Young girls and young women, heads bent at machines

Sewing trousers and blouses and dresses and jeans;

Overworked, underpaid. But who cares? And who knows

Of the lives of the people who’re sewing our clothes?

Annie Meharg, 2011

Agricultural Labourers’ Spirited Movement for Increased Wages in Hooghly, WB

Responding enthusiastically to the All India Agricultural Labourers’ Association (AIALA) call for strike during the current harvest season, agricultural workers in Hooghly launched a spirited movement demanding increased wages. Crushed by the burden of skyrocketing price-rise, the agrarian workers’ mood was militant, and in several villages the struggle intensified with strikes continuing for 3-4 and even 7-8 days at a stretch. The rich peasants and their patron political parties tried their best to bring middle and poor peasants into their fold in opposition of the wage struggle. But in face of the resolute unity amongst labourers, the poor and middle peasants were gradually won over and they agreed to the wage increase. Eventually, the rich farmers had no option but to concede to the demands. The original call for a district-wide strike on 10th November was modified to demand a uniform minimum wage of Rs. 171 per day as announced by the Government. In the end the struggle was able to win daily wage increases of Rs. 10, Rs. 15, and even Rs. 20 in certain areas.

There were certain apprehensions that a wage struggle by labourers at this time of deepening agricultural crisis might affect poor farmers negatively as they are already crumbling under the pressures of soaring farming prices (fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, water, electricity) whereas the crop prices fetched are anything but fair. The severity of the farm crisis is exemplified by the increasing number of farm suicides. Hence, the apprehension that a wage struggle by labourers might alienate poor peasants from the party. However, AIALA firmly denounced such fears and rallied the farm labourers who stood organized in hundreds in several villages of Dadpur, Pandua, Balagarh and Dhanekhali. They struck work till they won their wage demands. As a general trend it was observed that although on the first day of strike poor peasants sided with rich peasants, the collusion did not last long, and soon enough the poor peasants distanced themselves with the rich peasants. As much as the former are a victim of the multinational onslaught on agriculture, they are also a victim of the latter’s control over water and fertilizer and oppressive loan-scenario, which naturally renders such an alliance unfeasible. This renewed practical lesson in agrarian class structure will help future AIALA struggles and strategies. Following the successful movement, work has picked up on building new village committees and area committees. An AIALA membership drive is also underway. Earlier, on 8th November, a state-wide BDO deputation was organized at block level, demanding NREGA work and speedy payment, arresting farm suicides and price-rise of farming supplies, distribution of khas land, ensuring a fair Panchayat election, steps in remunerative pricing and condemning police firing at Dubrajpur.

CPI(ML) Rally Condemns Police Firing at Dubrajpur and Tehatta,

Burns Effigy of Mamata Banerjee

Of late Mamata Banerjee’s Administration has brought back haunting memories of Singur and Nandigram with police forces firing indiscriminately at villagers, first at Loba village of Dubrajpur (Birbhum district) on the 6th of November, and subsequently at Haulia village of Tehatta (Nadia district) on the 14th.

In Dubrajpur, villagers have been resisting land acquisition in the Singur-Nandigram style by Bengal EMTA (Eastern Minerals and Trading Association), a private company that is out to set up an open cast mine in a vast tract (three times that acquired at Singur) of fertile agricultural land. During the LF rule, EMTA acquired 700 acres of land from the absentee landlord through their agents. In 2009, an agreement was signed between EMTA and DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) on land acquisition but the details have still been kept under wraps. Since then, the villagers have been demanding adequate compensation and price for their land. They confiscated an earth mover machine when EMTA officials attempted to start digging the land in December 2011. Ever since, Partha Chatterjee, Minister for Industry and Commerce, had been pressurizing the local administration for police action to retrieve the machine.

A huge police contingent was sent to Dubrajpur on the 6th whereupon villagers were tear-gassed, lathi-charged and fired upon. Five villagers sustained bullet injuries as they put up a heroic resistance to police brutalities. A CPI(ML) fact-finding team report published earlier in ML Update exposes the ugly nexus existing between DVC-EMTA and the TMC administration, from the district level all the way up to the ministerial level, which explains why the police acted in such a highhanded manner at DVC-EMTA’s behest. 8th November was observed as a state-wide protest day against the Dubrajpur firing, with protests and dharnas held at block level. Protest meetings, rallies and marches were held respectively in Murshidabad and Jalpaiguri, Siliguri and Kolkata.

Close on the heels of Dubrajpur came Tehatta. Under directions of the Sub-divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Tehatta, police constables cracked down on villagers with tear gas, batons and bullets. Ashok Sen, a construction worker was killed by police bullet on the spot, and four other villagers hospitalized with bullet injuries. A CPI(ML) team led by the Nadia District Secretary went to the spot on 15th November. They spoke to the grieving family of the deceased and demanded that the WB Govt provide compensation and job to family members of the deceased and take immediate action to punish guilty police officers.

The way a local dispute over a piece of PWD land (situated next to the Eidgah, where a section of the Muslim community wanted a road, and a section of the Hindu community sought permission to hold their annual Jagaddhatri Puja) was allowed to blow out of proportions and finally settled with police bullets costing a worker’s life is condemnable in the strongest terms. The administration failed to reach an amicable solution by involving all parties concerned and instead fuelled further communal divide presumably keeping narrow electoral gains in mind. CPI(ML) Nadia State Committee called for a 12-hour Bandh in Tehatta on the 16th in protest of the police firing.

It is evident that Mamata Banerjee and her trigger-happy administration have learnt nothing from the Singur-Nandigram episodes. On 22nd November, CPI(ML) held a large protest rally in Kolkata condemning the police firing incidents at Dubrajpur and Tehatta. The 500-strong rally led by PB member Kartick Pal and CCMs Kalyan Goswami and Partha Ghosh started from Raja Subodh Mallick Square and proceeded towards Esplanade. The Metro Channel was blocked off and protesters burnt an effigy of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. WB State Secretary Partha Ghosh addressed the rally, which then marched further to end at Moulali. Several demands were raised from the rally – among them (1) judicial enquiry into the Tehatta police firing, (2)compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs to the family of the deceased, and (3) punishment of guilty police personnel. With regards to Dubrajpur, demands were raised for – (1) judicial enquiry into the police firing, (2) compensation of Rs. 1 lakh to the injured (with the state government shouldering the responsibility for their treatment), (2) scrapping of the dubious agreement between West Bengal Power Development Corporation and DVC-EMTA, and (3) punishment of the guilty police personnel forthwith.

CPI(ML) Team to Singur Arrested

CPI(ML) team to Singur led by Comrade Tapan Batabyal was arrested and taken to Singur thana on 2nd December, 2012. Comrade Tapan Batabyal was one of those arrested six years ago on that same 2nd December (2006) when Singur was being ransacked and the land occupied by the then Left Front Govt. TMC Govt now makes a full circle of its Singur episode.

Massive Demonstration at Odisha State Assembly

The CPI(ML) Odisha State Committee held a massive march and protest demonstration on 16th November in front of the Odisha State Assembly in Bhubaneswar against the State and Central Govt’s indifference to people’s issues and anti-people attitude common people.

Thousands of supporters and cadres of the Party displaying placards and red flags marched in a procession starting from Railway station to the lower PMG in front of the State Assembly raising slogans – “Stop Rampant Corruption, No to FDI in Retail, Stop Corporate Loot, Price Rise, Special Status to Agriculture, Stop the Farmers Suicide in the Country, Ensure Employment to All, Stop Black Marketing of Fertilizers and Distress Sale of Paddy, Ensure Land to Landless and Forest Right to Poor Tribals.

CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya was also present in the march to the Assembly and addressing the demonstration said, both the State and Central Govts have failed in addressing the pressing issues of common people. He demanded CBI inquiry into the mining scam in the State as the penalty notice served to 104 mine owners for recovery of Rs.70,000 crore in fines for excess mining between 2001-10 proves that the BJD govt led by Naveen Patnaik is fully involved in the mining scam. He said if the govt will not change its anti people policy, people will change the govt. He also declared that the party will actively support the February 21-22, 2013, national strike called by different trade unions of the country.

Comrade Kshitish Biswal, Odisha’s State Secretary of the Party also addressed the demonstration apart from several other mass organisation leaders.

AICCTU Gherao’s CDPO in Bhubaneswar

A massive demonstration in-front of Bhubaneswar CDPO was held by hundreds of Aanganwadi workers and helpers to demand hike in salary including the pending 4 months’ salary, providing uniform, cooking fees, travel allowance and information to all workers. The coordination meeting allowance should also be given to all workers.

All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) State Secretary Comrade Mahnedra Parida addressed the workers and said Rs.15,000 in salary should be given to all workers. President of Aanganwadi Workers and Helpers Association addressed the workers and Secretary Sramistha Patra also addressed the workers and warned that if the district administration does not heed to the demands within 15 days since submitting the memorandum the agitaion will be intensified.

CPI(ML)’s Cadre Convention in UP

Uttar Pradesh Unit of the Party organised State-level Cadre Convention on 18 November to give momentum to the preparations for the upcoming Party Congress in April and RYA’s national conference to be held in Lucknow (14-15 December 2012). Two hundred selected cadre from the State including District Committee and leading teams from 26 districts participated in the Convention.

Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya was the main speaker at the Cadre Convention held at Lucknow Montessori Inter College’s auditorium. Discussing the political situation he said that the people are furious at the Congress-led UPA for the price-rise and corruption. However, people are not forgiving the BJP and NDA Govts either. Apart from the UPA and NDA, the condition of the regional parties’ govts – whether its TMC in WB or Samajwadi Party in UP – is also not good. People of the country want change. The economic policies of the last two decades has only increased regional imbalance, internationalised communalism. US is exporting communalism, it has equated Islam with terrorism. In these situations, people expectations from the Left and especially from the CPI(ML) has increased. In such a circumstance the preparation for our 9th Party Congress has gained more importance. He called for transforming the 21-22 February 2013 national strike by TU’s into a successful general people’s strike, making the RYA’s National Conference a grand success and leaving no stone unturned towards the preparations of the 9th Party Congress. In preparation for the Party Congress he called for enrolling 30 percent new members in every district, forming newer branches and organising most of the members in branches, and achieving the targets set by the Central Committee, so that the process for election of the delegates for the Party Congress and begin early. Comrade Ramji Rai, Politburo member, also addressed the Convention, apart from several other leaders. Comrade Sudhakar Yadav, State Secretary of the Party, conducted the proceedings.

Nationwide Protest Week by AIKM

The All India Kisan Mahasabha (AIKM) organised a nationwide protest week from 20-26 November to demand a stop on acquisition of agricultural land, passing the land protection bill in the Parliament, punishing the police officials responsible for assaulting 29 peasants including AIKM General Secretary Comrade Rajaram Singh and withdrawing all false cases against them, blocking FDI in retail, scrapping Electricity Act 2003, stopping privatisation of service sectors especially power and water distribution, checking the heavy increase in the prices of agricultural inputs, continuing the subsidies in agriculture, and increasing the taxes on corporates etc.

As part of the protest week, padyatras, people’s contact, prabhat pheri, protest marches, street corner meetings, PM’s effigy burning and similar protest programmes were held at several places between 20-25 November. On the last day, 26 November, dharnas and demonstration were held at block, sub-divisional and district headquarters.

Protest week was held in all districts of Bihar; Punjab, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: mlupdate, website: www.cpiml.org

MLU-15-50.doc

MLU-15-50.pdf

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