- Created: Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:35
- Written by Newcastle FRFI
On the 24th April, the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing hundreds of garment workers. Two weeks later, bodies were still being found amongst the rubble, bringing the death toll to over 1,050 and rising every day. The workers had been toiling in sweatshops to produce clothing for companies such as Primark and Matalan and Mango.
Supporters of FRFI and other demonstrators gathered outside of Primark on Saturday, 11th May to demand that they sign the 'Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement' (BFBSA). The guilt money they have offered victims' families as compensation is far from enough; their current refusal to sign the agreement shows their disregard for the safety of the workers. Just two days before the demonstration, a further eight workers were killed by a factory fire; the workers were again making clothes for Primark in unsafe conditions, after the factory should have been closed for the evening.
Demonstrators urged Primark to sign the agreement and demanded an end to the exploitation of garment workers; those who died in collapse had been working 14-hour days, for half a penny an hour, in dangerous, difficult conditions. The majority of workers were women. The management of the Rana Plaza, who had forced workers back into the factory knowing it was unsafe, were criticised, as were the management of Primark in Britain and the governments who are complicit in this exploitation. Speakers raised the history of this oppression – the centuries that Bangladesh has been robbed of resources and how the Bangladesh government is locked into economic dependency dating back to British colonialism from the 18th century.
Dhaka is one of the world’s most populous and fastest growing cities, and unsurprisingly is one of the most unequal and poverty-stricken ‘megacities’ in the world. Bangladesh is the world's second largest clothes exporter, and the demand for cheap, throwaway clothes results in low wages, and workers prevented from organising as trade unions are violently suppressed.
In addition, the links were made with other guilty companies on the high street who similarly profit from brutal exploitation: tax-evading companies like Boots; Topshop and BHS, part of the empire owned by Phillip Green, who not only dodges tax but supports cuts in Britain; Marks and Spencer's, the biggest British corporate sponsor of Israel and Barclay's, who fund arms companies to the tune of £7.3 billion. This was not just a demonstration aimed at Primark, but opposition to imperialism's reliance on this mass exploitation to maintain a rotten system that profits a minority at the expense of the international working class. The ruling class response to crisis is increasingly affecting workers here; many people came to speak about their zero-hour contracts, redundancies, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax.
Venezuelan, Cuban and Palestinian flags were flown, showing solidarity with those resisting imperialism and recognising that another world is possible and is being built. Speakers and placards showed that Venezuela was able to raise the minimum wage by 20% on International Worker's Day in May, and plans to raise it again by a further 10% in September, as well as strengthening worker's rights. This is only possible in a society working towards socialism, aiming to meet the need's of the people.
There is still a need to put pressure on Primark to sign the safety agreement, and to oppose a system that forces people to work in sweatshop conditions, in poverty, for the profit of the ruling class.
No to exploitation! Solidarity with workers in Bangladesh!