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Garment-workers unrest and state coercion to impede democratic protests on the month of victory

Rumana Hashem

An urgent update from Bangladesh on the latest development in labour movement and struggles for fair wage reached our inbox in the morning on Thursday the 22nd December, when I was catching up with last minute tasks to do before a go to winter vacation. A senior journalist and feminist from Bangladesh wrote:

 

Dear Comrades and Colleagues,

 For the past few days, garment workers from Ashulia Industrial Area, Dhaka , are engaged in all forms of protest to demand an increase in the minimum wage. 

 This morning around 11.30am Comrade Moshrefa Mishu of Garments Workers Unity forum was arrested from Topkhana Road in Dhaka. She was on her way to attend a press briefing on the current movement. Another labor leader Shoumitra Kumar Das was also arrested from Ashulia along with 5 other members of his organization, Garments Sromik Front. 

 What is worrying is that police has not confirmed either of the arrest. When asked about Mishu’s arrest, the Detective Branch police said, “she is neither arrested nor detained. She was invited to have a cup of tea.” So far, no words from the officials on Shoumitra and others arrests. 

 Meanwhile two police cases are filed against 219 workers, accusing of vandalism and assaulting factory officials. Two workers named in these cases are also arrested. http://www.newagebd.net/article/5292/121-workers-fired-200-sued  

 Please do what you think is needed for the immediate release of the arrested/detained workers and labor leaders.

in solidarity  [..]

 

Mosherfa Mishu is a grassroots feminist and a gifted organiser in the labour movement whose power of mobilisation has been proven for decades now. She was detained in late 2010 and was held for months in 2011 but she never gave in.  Mishu dedicated three decades for the workers’ rights and garments movement in Bangladesh. This time Mishu was kidnapped and held by police on an important day so as to isolate her from the workers who needed her most for their fight for fair wage.  Mishu was fortunately released afterwards as the purpose was already served and 26 key organisers were detained under special act – under the Industrial Law the government in Bangladesh could take any brutal action against any worker, without reasons, if she/he disobeys imposed rules in the industrial sector. Our friend from Bangladesh wrote on Thursday evening:

Around 5.30pm, the DB police has taken Comrade Mishu to her residence. With that ends the day long drama of inviting labor leaders to drink tea in police custody.

She is in good spirit, and thanked everyone for their concern and support. However, the following labor leaders are still in custody:

1)   Shoumitro Kumar Das, President of Garment Sramik Front Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee. 

2) Rafiqul Islam, President, Garment and Industry Sramik Federation.

3) Al Kamran, President of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.  

4) Shakil Khan, General Secretary of Shwadhin Bangla Garment Sramik Federation Savar-Ashulia-Dhamrai Regional Committee.

5) Shamim Khan, President of Bangladesh Trinomul Garment Sramik-Kormochari Federation.

6) Md Ibrahim, Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity Coordinator (Ashulia)

7) Md. Mizan, convener of Textile Workers Federation. 

What we see in this update is that the garment workers who are key to Bangladesh’s growing economy, and on whose labour and dedication the Bangladesh nation lives as an independent nation-state today are the ones that are being brutally subjugated and silenced. This silencing is happening in the month of victory in Bangladesh. Indeed, the month of victory seems brutal itself this year. Earlier this month, we have seen how brutally religious minorities and indigenous people have been prosecuted and oppressed by law enforcement squads in Bangladesh. Now it is the garment workers who are faced with the adversity of neo-liberal progress in a state that struggles to uphold democracy to say the least.

 

Garment workers are the driving force of Bangladesh’s national development and economic growth, they should be in the heart of the nation . Last week, on 12 December 2016, tens of thousands of garment workers in the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka, came out in a week-long strike. They were demanding a minimum monthly wage of 15,000 taka (£158) – a 300% increase on the current minimum wage. The strike is thought to have begun at the Windy Apparels factory, which had seen the gruesome death at work of an employee in October.

According to the Guardian (UK), the strike was provoked when 121 workers were sacked.  Their protests were declared illegal and 10 demonstrators were injured by rubber bullets. The strike then spread to other factories in the Ashulia area and by the 20th December, 59 factories were closed. Many were shut down by factory owners, who locked out the workers rather than face strike action.

The government has mobilised the notorious Rapid Action Battalion police force. Three officers from this same unit have just been sentenced to death after they were involved in politically motivated murders in 2014, in a trial which concluded 17 January this year. One of the three officers, Tarek Sayeed, is the son-in-law of a government minister, the BBC reports.

Fearing the garment workers’ strike would spread across the country, on this 21 December the government began to round up union leaders. This was despite the clearly spontaneous nature of the strike. In fact, the Clean Clothes Campaign, an NGO, reported that “none of the major trade union federations have endorsed the strike. At a number of press conferences, trade union leaders have instead urged workers to return to work.” Prosecutions swiftly followed and other union leaders went into hiding.

According to CWI report by Peter Mason, Around 5 million textile workers produce 80% of Bangladesh’s exports, and if successfully unionised they would have huge power. The continual attempts at unionisation made by the heroic textile workers constantly meet with police action and sackings. When the names of workers who wish to form a union are submitted to the government, as required by law, the government, with its many ties to the garment industry, simply turns the names over to the bosses, who then intimidate or sack them.

There are campaigns by the Clean Clothes Campaign and other NGOs which focuses on and appeals to the government, the employers and the many high street brands that profit hugely from the poverty pay and long hours of the workers. While these are important campaigns, “it is nevertheless the independent class organisation of the workers that is the essential first step”, correctly notes Peter Mason, a Socilaist Party Activist.

This militant section of workers face a brutal regime of exploitation. The Guardian reported that up to 3,500 workers were sacked in what was the first widespread action since the Rana Plaza collapse fatally buried more than 1,138 garment workers beneath piles of rubble and injured 2500 more. At that time, the government declared a day of mourning but incredibly, some bosses kept their factories open. Protesting workers burned two of them down, such was their rage. The government was forced to introduce the present minimum wage but it is totally inadequate.

Windy Apparels, where the December strike started, was supplying a number of well known high street outlets such as H&M, Tesco, Arcadia and Debenhams. Employees routinely work a 14 hour day. 8 hours are paid at the normal rate, two hours overtime, and the rest is unpaid labour. Despite a legal entitlement to sick leave, workers are routinely verbally abused, publicly humiliated, or docked pay.

The treatment of a female employee, Taslima Aktar, caused a scandal. Management repeatedly refused permission for sick leave to her when she was ill and she continued working. She then died at her sewing machine of cardiac failure following “severe respiratory distress”. The employers took her to hospital but later, her co-workers,  leaving the factory, found her body stowed away by management near the factory gates. “This is how little they value our lives … We know the same thing can happen any day, to any of us.” (The Grind, 15 December 2016.)

We urge everyone to show solidarity and raise voices against fascism of government and subjugation of garment workers in Bangladesh. We call upon all community women’s blog readers – please stand up and raise your voices to free all detained leaders of garment workers. Feel free to reproduce any part of this blog. Please write to the government asking to end arbitrary cases against garment workers and labour leaders in Bangladesh.

For further news read:

Mishu briefly detained

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5374/mishu-briefly-detained

Negotiation, not coercion to ease labor unrest

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5451/negotiation-not-coercion-to-ease-labour-unrest

Police pick up 26 people, 157 more workers terminated

http://www.newagebd.net/article/5410/police-pick-up-26-people-157-more-workers-terminated

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Women’s rights campaigners echoed the voices of 300+ BAME victims & survivors of abusive religious related practices & codes: ‘Who will listen to our voices?’

End of Year Update on Campaign to Dismantle Parallel Legal Systems

By Rumana Hashem

Over 300 women of Black and Minority communities, abused by religious bodies such as Sharia Councils in the UK, have signed a statement opposing Sharia courts and religious bodies, warning of the mounting threats to their rights and to their collective struggles for security and independence. The letter published on 14 December 2016 on Open Democracy 50.50 reads as below:

We are women who have experienced abuse and violence in our personal lives. Most of us come from Muslim backgrounds, but some of us come from other minority faiths.

We are compelled to voice our alarm about the growing power of religious bodies such as Sharia Councils and their bid for control over our lives. We oppose any religious body – whether presided over by men or women – that seeks to rule over us: because they do not have any authority to speak or make decisions on our behalf and because they are not committed to women’s rights and social justice. Whether we are women of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian faiths or of no faith, we have much in common with each other in the face of cruelty, tyranny and discrimination in our families, in our communities, and in the wider society. Many of us are deeply religious, but for us religion is in our hearts: a private matter between us and our God. Religion is not – and must not be – something that can be used to deny us our freedom or the little pieces of happiness that we find by mixing and borrowing from many different traditions and cultures which give meaning to our otherwise difficult existence.

We know from personal experiences that many religious bodies such as Sharia Councils are presided over by hard line or fundamentalist clerics who are intolerant of the very idea that women should be in control of their own bodies and minds. These clerics claim to be acting according to the word of God: but they are often corrupt, primarily interested in making money and abuse their positions of power by shaming and slandering those of us who reject those aspects of our religions and cultures that we find oppressive. We pay a huge price for not submitting to domestic violence, rape, polygamy and child abuse and other kinds of harm. For this reason alone, we are fearful of religious laws and rulings from such bodies. Our experience in our countries of origin and in our communities tells us that they are deeply discriminatory and divisive. They will weaken our collective struggles for security and independence.

We struggle to fit into this country and to educate our children, especially our daughters, and to protect them and give them a better life. We struggle to have our experiences of violence and abuse addressed properly in accordance with the principles of equality and justice for all. We do not wish to be judged by reference to fundamentalist codes that go against our core values of compassion, tolerance and humanity. We do not want to go backwards or to be delivered back into the hands of our abusers and those who shield them.

Many of us have not made public comments on this issue, because we are afraid of the consequences of doing so openly. All of us have faced abuse and we are desperately trying to rebuild our lives in the face of constant and continuing threats and trauma. Some of us have used only our first names to support this statement, but we feel strongly enough about this matter to do so.

We do not want Sharia Councils or other religious bodies to rule our lives. We demand the right to be valued as human beings and as equals before one law for all. We demand the right to follow our own desires and aspirations.

 

To view the names of the signatories and the nature of human rights violation and abuse experienced by individual signatories, please check out the article: The Sharia debate in the UK: who will listen to our voices?

 

In the meantime the coalition of women’s rights campaigners against parallel legal systems and Sharia Councils in the UK has launched a fresh campaign on social media for One Law for ALL which went viral two days before the closure of final evidence submission to Home Affairs Select Committee. The online campaign appeared on the same day as the letter from 300+ abused women opposing Sharia courts in the UK was published on Open Democracy.  The campaign by secular women’s rights campaigners on twitter and Facebook preceded by a hash sign “One Law for ALL”, ending with a hash sign “Struggle Not Submission” – a slogan used by the ex-WAF  members  , echoed the voices of 300 BAME victims and survivors of abusive practices and codes of religious bodies. The power of the campaign is in the slogans and the placards written and made by the women’s rights campaigners who experienced various forms of oppressions by Sharia and religious codes and practices.

 

They said: “injustice is injustice even when it comes from people of colour”, “our community women do not want to be re-victimised by Sharia judges”, “minority women are not extensions of the ‘community’, regressive imams & Sharia judges – they are citizens with rights”, “it is racist to fob off minority women to kangaroo courts”, “polygamy is abuse and violation of women’s Rights”, “Sharia law legitimises under-age marriage & honour-based violence against women”, “the impunity that Sharia courts enjoy must be ended”, “listen to women who know: don’t allow them to be silenced by anyone” . “By accommodating Sharia courts and Betei Din, the UK government is itself in breach of its obligations to gender equality”.

 

Besides, Maryam Namazie of One Law for All lodged supplementary written submission of evidence to Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) Inquiry into Sharia Councils. And, on the final day of evidence supplementary evidence submission, Prgana Patel of Southall Black Sisters has submitted further evidence and long testimonies of victims and survivors of parallel legal systems to HASC on 16 December 2016.  These latest submission by One Law for All and Southall Black Sister are undeniable. The final submissions of devastating evidence made a luminous end of the year 2016.  We shall hope that these last minute yet detailed and powerful evidences will enlighten the blind government and the allegedly bias Home Affairs Select Committee. We can hope for a bright, enlightened, equal, free, fair and tolerant new year.

Hope, Peace and Happy wishes to all Community Women’s Blog readers for 2017!

Read more:

Sharia courts have no place in UK family law. Listen to women who know

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/14/sharia-courts-family-law-women

Supplementary written evidence submitted by One Law for All http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/sharia-councils/written/44036.html

#OneLawforAllBecause  #StruggleNotSubmission


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What you can do about the recent atrocities against the Hindu & Santal community in Bangladesh

 

The situation of religious minorities, violence against Hindus  and atrocities on Santal indigenous people has not changed or improved in Bangladesh. Since late October, government has hardly acted against the identifiable  criminals and to prevent atrocities against Santals and Hindu minorities – let alone rehabilitation of the people who were faced with genocide in their ancestors’ land.  We stand with the victims and survivors in Santal villages. We echo the voices of Hindu victims and support the Santal resilence. We call upon everyone to take action by following the advice of our friends at Secular Bangladesh Movement and Swadhinota Trust. Below is a call out for action that we reproduced from Swadhinota Trust listserve, issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change.

 

Hunger Strike outside Bangladesh High Commission in London, 23 November 2016. Photocredict: Atish D Saha

 

We are extremely concerned at the recent atrocities against Hindu community in Brahmanbaria in October and against Santals in Gaibandha in November. These attacks have provoked new fears amongst minority religious communities in Bangladesh.

It is beyond the capacity of the small groups of individuals or communities under sustained attack to assert their rights against very powerful political movements and land grabbers. We therefore need political, moral and, most importantly, immediate financial support from people from across the world who are concerned about this terrifying situation. We hope the vision of a common humanity will prevail over this terrible situation and that help reaches the beleaguered victims as soon as possible.

Things you can do to support

 

Speak out about the plight of religious minorities of Bangladesh with friends, families, neighbours and colleagues to increase awareness

Write to

 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister’s Office

Old Sangsad Bhaban

Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215

Bangladesh

Via facsimile: +880 2 8113244; +880 2 8111015

your local MP, urging the UK govt to take the issue up with Bangladesh government http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

 

 

Contact lobbying organisations

Amnesty International

1 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DW

Email: contactus@amnesty.org

Telephone: +44-20-74135500

Fax number: +44-20-79561157

Twitter: @Amnestyonline

 

Human Rights Watch

Audrey House
16 -20 Ely Place
London
EC1N 6SN
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7618 4700
https://www.hrw.org/contact-our-office-london

 

Support organisations working in Bangladesh

Secular Bangladesh Movement UK
Unit 1, Ground Floor Retail Unit, Fondant Court, Payne Road , London E3 2SP United Kingdom
Mobile:0044 7737828922
Nirmul Committee

International Forum for Secular Bangladesh, UK

iforum.secularbd@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/groups/173829836415586/

Swadhinata Trust

International Centre for Community Development

Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities

London Metropolitan University

166/220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB

admin@swadhinata.org.uk www.swadhinata.org.uk

Issued on 10 Dec 2016 World Human Rights Day by the Swadhinata Trust, Nirmul Committee with the support of the Network of Social Change