The global union federation IndustriALL (of which Unite and the USW are major affiliates) has been running a campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh textile and garment industry.
Below, Tony Burke (writing yesterday at Left Foot Forward) gives some more backround:
The tragedy in the Bangladesh garment industry at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 workers when a building that housed eight factories collapsed, has lead to outrage across the world.
Condemnation has come from all quarters. Governments, NGOs and customers who have been wringing their hands saying “we must put a stop to this – but how do we do it?”.
Those persons condemned include the building’s owner, (who went on the run and now faces with calls from workers for his execution); the owners of the factories; the builders themselves (now all under arrest); but also the Western customers, such as Primark, Mango and others who allegedly ignore abuses of millions workers in the garment industry in order to produce cheap clothing for sale in the West.
The Rana Plaza tragedy follows on from the deadly fire which killed over a hundred workers at Tazreen Fashions in late 2012. And this week eight more workers were killed in a fire at a clothing factory.
Mass industrial manslaughter
The global manufacturing union federation IndustriALL has correctly described the Rana Plaza tragedy as “mass industrial manslaughter”.
Seeing large cracks appear in the building, workers at Rana Plaza evacuated the building – only to be forced back to work by the factory owners.
At Tazreen escape and entry doors and windows were locked shut and workers could not escape the blaze.
IndustriALL has been running a long-term campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. There are around 100,000 Bangladesh companies associated with the garment industry, employing up to four million workers who feed the West’s insatiable appetite for cheap clothes. The industry itself is worth 20 billion US dollars .
According to BRAC, one of the leading NGOs in Bangladesh, the country has a safety inspection force of just 18 people.
IndustriALL reports that there are 39 unions in the national garment industry, and too many times they have failed to co-operate with each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:
The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.
It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”
And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:
“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it. Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision. There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated. Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott. Clearly he can. And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.
By Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press, Budapest
Sandor Racz (above), a labor activist and leading figure during Hungary’s anti-Soviet Revolution of 1956, died Tuesday at age 80.
The World Federation of Hungarians, of which Racz was honorary president, confirmed that he died while receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness at the National Institute of Oncology in Budapest.
The 1956 uprising broke out on Oct. 23 and was crushed by the Soviet army in early November. But as president of the Budapest central workers’ council, Racz and other labor leaders pressed ahead with the objectives of the movement for several more weeks, negotiating with pro-Soviet Prime Minister Janos Kadar and top Soviet military officers.
“For me, the revolution was so unambiguous, that I could not even imagine a Hungarian who does not feel that the Hungarian people are 1,000 percent right when they want to free themselves from an unacceptable foreign, murderous and pillaging system,” Racz wrote in memoirs published in 2005.
Even as the crackdown on those who took part in the revolution was under way — at least 225 people would be executed by 1958— the workers’ councils held two nationwide strikes in November and December.
Racz, then a 23-year-old a tool maker at an electronics factory, was arrested on Dec. 11, 1956, after being lured to Parliament with the excuse of holding talks with Kadar, who ruled Hungary until a few years before the end of the communist regime in 1990. Racz was sentenced to life in prison in 1958 but released under a 1963 general amnesty.
After his release, he returned to work as a tool maker and participated in secret meetings with students, telling them about the events of 1956. He retired due to poor health in 1987 and spent the rest of his life keeping alive the memory of the 1956 events.
“The workers’ councils were very important but they tend to be forgotten because most of the attention is given to the armed aspects of the revolution,” said British writer Bob Dent, author of a book about the revolution. “The councils were unofficial trade unions representing workers during and after the uprising.”
Racz was born on March 17, 1933 near the city of Hodmezovasarhely in southeast Hungary. He is survived by his wife, Aniko Damasdi, and two children.
This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
Bangladeshi soldiers use earth mover during rescue operation at site of factory collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. At least 161 people were killed. / AP
Statement from Labour Behind the Label:
Labour Behind the Label today mourns the senseless loss of life, after an 8 story building in Savar, Bangladesh housing 3 clothing factories collapsed this morning (24.4.13). Over 82 workers [now known to be at least 161 -JD] were killed in the wreckage and 800 people injured, with the death toll set to rise as further bodies are found. Labour rights groups and trade unions in Bangladesh and internationally are calling for immediate action from international brands following the collapse.
The building contained 3 separate clothing factories, which locals say housed around 6,000 workers. Following the collapse, activists were able to enter the ruins and discovered labels from brands including Primark and Mango, indicating that they were sourcing from the factories. Rana Plaza also produced for a host of well known brand names including C&A, Matalan and Wal-Mart.
This collapse follows the Tazreen factory fire in the same district that killed 112 workers five months ago, and the Spectrum Factory collapse of 2005 which caused the death of at least 64 workers. The speed of the garment industry expansion in the Savar area is an ongoing and pressing concern. Savar, just outside of Dhaka, has seen significant growth in garment factories in recent times, with factories being built on swamp land and without proper building regulations in place. Labour rights groups say unnecessary deaths will continue unless and until brands and government officials agree to an independent and binding fire and building safety program.
“It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring is completely inadequate,” says Sam Maher of Labour Behind the Label.
She adds: “Right now the families of the victims are grieving and the community is in shock. But shortly they, and the hundreds injured in the collapse, will be without income and without support. Compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening.”
Labour Behind the Label is calling upon all major brands sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the ‘Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement’ immediately to stop future tragedies from happening. The Clean Clothes Campaign, together with local and global unions and labour rights organisations, has developed this sector-wide program that includes independent building inspections, worker rights training, public disclosure and a long-overdue review of safety standards. This transparent and practical agreement is unique in that it is supported by all key labour stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally.
Note to political cartoonists: time to revisit and update this:
Christiane Taubira, the French Minister for Justice on 29th January this year (click on “subtitles” icon for English translation):
…and, a few days ago in the New Zealand House of Representatives, the witty Maurice Williamson:
H/t (for Williamson): Serge Paul
From the archives:
NO ROOM FOR ASIANS? RUBBISH! NO ROOM FOR RACISM!
Many things have changed in the four decades since this 1973 “open letter” to Britain’s foremost racist agitator of the time, the Tory MP Enoch Powell, was written.
It appeared in the paper Workers’ Fight, published by what is now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, in two of the industrial papers, for dockers and steel workers, that they also published, and in leaflets given out on demonstrations.
The labour movement was then at the peak of its strength and militancy. Within a year we would bring down the Tory Government and replace it with the Wilson Labour Government. The same chauvinist abuse, scapegoating, and hostility hurled now at immigrants from Eastern Europe was then directed at Asians and Afro-Caribbeans. Then, however, the shameless nationalism and racism, though it was very influential, came mainly from right-wing political fringes. Now it also comes from mainstream politicians and even, in a thinly-disguised form, from some on the anti-EU “left”
Powell, a leading figure in the Conservative Party, was dismissed from the Tory Shadow Cabinet by Edward Heath in 1968 because he made an inflammatory racist speech. Today Prime Minister Cameron is one of the worst chauvinist demagogues. The “Open Letter”, written by Sean Matgamna, appeared under the names of Tony Duffy, editor of Real Steel News and Harold Youd, editor of The Hook.
AN OPEN LETTER TO ENOCH POWELL
The Tory Government and the bosses it serves now desperately need all the help you can give them. We have – so far – thwarted its plans and defeated it, again and again. We have spat on its laws. And we will drive it from office before long.
WE? The working class. The men and women of all creeds and colours who do the work in Britain, who man the factories, drive the trains, clean the streets, erect the buildings, care for the sick in hospitals, build the ships and load and unload them, stoke the furnaces and dig the coal. We, the real people of Britain, the “Lower classes”, on whose backs your class stands.
Millions upon millions of workers hate and despise this Tory Government. They recognise it as their most bitter enemy, and they demand its immediate resignation.
And that’s where you crawl out of your rat hole. You see the tragedy of the Uganda Asians as another chance to whip up racialist hysteria In Britain. Wrapped in the cloak of a far-seeing ‘patriot’, a man who speaks for the ‘People’, your service to the bosses is to try to get the Tories off the hook by dividing worker against worker, white against black; to deflect the anger of the working class, to head off its discontent and to pit one part of our ranks against another, to our common injury and to the benefit of your class.
Your message is the sick message of hatred and division. In the name of averting a “national catastrophe” you want to promote a working class catastrophe — that of racial conflict. You harvest race hatred and you sow it. You have become the prophet of a race war which you do your best and worst to set alight.
After your 1968 speeches, fascists organised anti-black demonstrations, and racialist gangs took to assaulting black workers and youths – IN YOUR NAME.
That, Powell, is where you link arms with the Mosley fascists and the National Front, those sick and obscene gangs of misfits, Hitler-lovers who get their kicks from hatred of blacks and Jews, and who want to destroy the trade unions and labour movement.
That is why you are one of the most dangerous enemies of the British working class – black and white – right now. You are the carrier of a disease of racialism that could ravage the working class and cripple our ability to go on standing up to the attacks of Heath’s Government.
You are also the biggest fraud and con-man in the whole Tory party. You are a shameless, habitual, bare-faced liar. AND WE CAN PROVE IT.
YOU SAY: Immigration equals national catastrophe. Why? How? For whom? Immigrants to any healthy society are an asset and a “bonus”. They are fully grown, educated (and they are educated) and capable of working, whereas additions to the population by natural increase need years of education, care and social benefits.
You play on the fears and the insecurity of workers under capitalism. But you, Powell, are a fanatical defender of capitalism and enemy of socialism, which is the real solution to the problems of the working class.
You believe in the free market, even if it means 3 million unemployed. You care nothing for the working class or for the effects of capitalism. You are against the Trade Unions, you were a minister in a Tory government whose every anti-working class act you supported.
You are no “friend of the ordinary man”. No — you have nothing but a spiv’s contempt for working people. You have one concern only – to divide our class on the Idiotic basis of skin colour, to cripple us in the real fight.
Keeping out immigrants will not solve unemployment or any other problem: If workers listen to you they will be less able to fight unemployment. Instead of attacking its real cause they will start attacking each other.
You are not the exponent of a cure for our ills: you are an ulcerated carrier of the disease – capitalism – which afflicts British society.
YOU SAY: Britain is overcrowded. But what about the thousands who LEAVE every year?
YOU SAY: That immigrants differ in culture and background. Yes, they do. (So do the Welsh, English, Scots and Irish, and the large numbers of European workers who came here after the war.) But not nearly so much as the culture, lifestyle and values of the British workers differ from those of our British boss class.
The breadth of understanding, the real culture, even the general knowledge, of the British working class is in fact all the better, is all the richer, for the mixing. Our understanding of a common interest with workers of other countries is sharper for the experience. Our grasp of the need for INTERNATIONAL working-class solidarity is stronger for the contact.
In the Common Market the working class will only be able to defend itself by cutting across narrow nationalism and forging strong links with European trade unionists.
That’s what worries you, Powell, and your class, – as does the sight of black and white and Asian workers united on flying pickets. The working class maxim UNITY IS STRENGTH applies outside the country, as well as in it.
You SAY: The British people are denied the facts about what is happening in their country. But whose country is It, Powell? Two or three per cent of the people — those you represent — own all the substantial wealth of the country. They contribute little or nothing to the wealth of the country, to the well being of the majority of its people.
50,000 immigrants who work for just so much as one year (and they do work) will contribute more to the common wealth of the British people than will the whole gaggle of spivs and parasites that make up the ruling class during all the natural lives of a whole useless generation of them.
Black workers have more right to live in this country than all the winter-in-the-Bahamas set, all the Reggie Maudlings, the Arnold Welnstocks. the Lord Vesteys and the Enoch Powells – they have earned that right through hard work. And one day, quite soon perhaps, they will help “us” make it really OUR country by taking it out of the hands of rats like you.
In 1968 some muddled workers joined with fascists in supporting you. Since then the working class has felt its own strength, it has got a clearer picture of its real enemy now than for a long time past. It has the experience of a series of victorious struggles in common with tens of thousands of black and Asian workers.
Many militants must and will rally to protect our black brothers if the fascist gangs and backward workers of ’68 once again try to use the ‘respectable’ cover you provide to attack blacks and Asians.
This time working class militants, black and white, can create defence groups to drive your fascist followers back into the sewers from which you encourage them to emerge. If they don’t, they are allowing you, Powell, and your class, to inflict a wound on the working class which can turn septic.
With all our hearts we, working class militants from the port and steel industries, pledge ourselves to fight to root out, and to wipe out, the racialist poison you represent for our class.
The black workers are our brothers in the struggle of the working class. You, Powell, contemptible gutter-rat that you are, are one of the most diseased representatives of everything we are struggling against.
This petition has now reached over 200,000 signatures:
This petition calls for Iain Duncan Smith, the current Work and Pensions Secretary, to prove his claim of being able to live on £7.57 a day, or £53 a week.
On Monday’s Today Programme David Bennett, a market trader, said that after his housing benefit had been cut, he lives on £53 per week. The next interviewee was Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who was defending the changes. The interviewer then asked him if he could live on this amount. He replied: “If I had to, I would.”
This petition calls on Iain Duncan Smith to live on this budget for at least one year. This would help realise the conservative party`s current mantra that “We are all in this together”.
This would mean a 97% reduction in his current income, which is £1,581.02 a week or £225 a day after tax* [Source: The Telegraph]
It’s not, perhaps, the most sophisticated response to the Tories’ across-the-board attack on welfare claimants (whilst simultaneously cutting the income tax on the earning £150,000 or more). But it’s bloody effective.
You never know, it might even embarrass Iain Duncan Smith to give it a try…but it would have to be for a year (as the petition demands) for it to be meaningful.