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 »
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:
“As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge”
The title of the present post, and the opening quote both come directly from a piece written by one Glenn Greenwald that appeared on the Guardian‘s website on Tuesday 16 April. That’s just one day after the bombings.
Now, I don’t know anything about Mr Greenwald beyond the fact that he’s billed as “a columnist for Guardian US” and seems to be a fairly typical Guardianista: invertebrate- liberal, knee-jerk anti-American, routinely anti-Israeli, generally ignorant and probably quite well-meaning at a personal level. Sort of a Gary Younge without the intelligence and/or a Seumas Milne without the rank hypocrisy.
For a start, Greenwald’s claim that there was a “rush to blame Muslims” after the bombings (in a post he wrote just hours after the attacks!) is simply incorrect. Certainly the Obama administration didn’t do that: they warned against “jumping to conclusions” and didn’t even use the word “terrorism” in their initial reactions. There were suggestions in the media, largely as a result of premature and irresponsible social media speculation, that a Saudi national was involved. This man turned out to have been an innocent victim, but speculation about his possible involvement (mainly in the New York Times) hardly amounts to what Greenwald describes as “The rush, one might say eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim [which was] palpable and unseemly, even without any real evidence.”
Greenwald is on somewhat stronger ground with his point about “selective empathy”:
“The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers.”
Of course it is true that the western media gives far more coverage to killings that take place ’at home’ than they do to comparable outrages elsewhere. Greenwald seems to suggest that this is the result of simple hypocrisy and possibly (though he doesn’t use the word), racism. At a certain level, it’s hard to disagree: an innocent victim (especially when it’s a child) should count the same whether he or she’s died as a result of a terrorist outrage in America or a US airstrike in Afghanistan.
But Greenwald fatally undermines his own case (insofar as he has a coherent case) by pointing out something that is undeniably and self-evidently true:
“There’s nothing wrong per se with paying more attention to tragedy and violence that happens relatively nearby and in familiar places. Whether wrong or not, it’s probably human nature, or at least human instinct, to do that, and it happens all over the world. I’m not criticising that. But one wishes that the empathy for victims and outrage over the ending of innocent life that instantly arises when the US is targeted by this sort of violence would at least translate into similar concern when the US is perpetuating it, as it so often does (far, far more often than it is targeted by such violence).”
So what point is Greenwald trying to make? If it’s simply an appeal to all those outraged by what happened in Boston to also consider the innocent victims of US military adventures abroad, then fair enough: no-one here at ‘Shiraz’ would argue with that. But I can’t help thinking that Greenwald really wants to go further than that, and what he’s really trying to say is something put much more bluntly by Lindsey German of ‘Stop The War’ and ‘Counterfire’:
“[I]t is not hard to conclude that western lives are valued much more highly than those of people in Afghanistan or the Middle East, and that bombs in the middle of major US cities are regarded as more newsworthy than those in the Afghan countryside or in Baghdad…Whatever the truth about this latest bombing, the continued refusal to acknowledge the widespread grievances against the US and its allies caused by the wars and US policies in the Middle East will lead to turmoil until solutions are found.”
Now that, I think you’ll agree, spells things out rather more plainly than Greenwald managed, or perhaps, dared: German is, essentially, saying ‘the US had it coming and deserves it.’
If you think that’s a bit unfair on Ms German, then remember: she and her partner, Mr John Rees, were effectively running the SWP at the time of the 9/11 attacks, when Socialist Worker‘s headline was “Horror in the United States: Bitter fruit of US policy”, and the de facto SWP ‘line’ (I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere) was to celebrate and gloat.
Look, comrades, it aught to be obvious: the lives of innocent American civilians are not worth more than anyone else’s: but neither are they worth any less.
NB: Greenwald has a new piece in today’s Graun objecting to the use of the word “terrorism” as anti-Muslim. It seems to me to be incoherent gibberish, but if anyone can explain it to me I’d be grateful. I may return to this latest piece shortly.
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.
From Abdul M via Avaaz.com
Dear friends across the UK,
The Taliban called me, saying I’m “an infidel spy”, they know where I live and will “punish” me. My crime? To work as a translator for British troops and journalists here in Afghanistan. But together we can get Britain to save me and a few hundred others who have risked everything!
Right now, Foreign Secretary William Hague is wondering whether to give me and other Afghan translators asylum, as the UK did for Iraqi translators — and we’re worried he’ll say no. We’ve worked with the British to help set our country free, and we’ve saved many British lives. But now my family and many others have had to go into hiding: every day we stay here it gets more dangerous.
Hague could decide whether to save or snub us any day now. If enough people call on him, he may grant us asylum. In days it’s the 10 year anniversary of the war in Iraq, and former British servicemen are ready to go to the media then to grab Hague’s attention on this. Let’s demand he does the right thing — sign and share our petition with everyone:
There are roughly 600 translators doing this dangerous work in Afghanistan – not just helping the army, but also helping journalists and aid workers. Many of us have already been killed or injured just for doing our jobs – a few years ago my brother was blown up on a patrol, and was left with horrific scars and 163 stitches. Many more of us have received death threats from the Taliban — and we all desperately fear what will happen when British troops leave soon.
When I went to the British authorities in Afghanistan about the death threats, they told me to go to my local police — the same police force that has a fearsome reputation for corruption, kidnapping and worse! Now, the UK government has said it is reviewing its policy and will assess asylum applications on a case by case basis, but this is a lengthy and difficult process with no guarantee of success – and in that time, I could be dead.
Our situation is desperate. I am the sole provider for my family — my parents are old and I have three young children. They have no way of supporting themselves if something were to happen to me. We’ve already had to go into hiding, and it’s harder and harder for us each day.
Our fate lies in the British government’s hands. Please join our call to William Hague now to free us from the terror that plagues us every day:
For years, my colleagues and I have stood shoulder to shoulder with British soldiers, journalists and aid workers. We’ve risked everything for them, and for our country’s freedom. Please don’t abandon us now, in our hour of need.
In peace and hope,
Is the UK abandoning its Afghan interpreters?
Afghans who served Britain ‘should be allowed to settle like Iraqi interpreters’
Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)
Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..
They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.
Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).
The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.
A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?
A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”
The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.
Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.
But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.
It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.
The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.
Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”
Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.
But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.
The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.
The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.
We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.
• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”