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PORTSIDE  December 2012, Week 1

PORTSIDE December 2012, Week 1

Subject:

Who's Responsible for the Fire that Killed 112 Garment Workers?

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 1 Dec 2012 12:14:07 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

Who's Responsible for the Fire that Killed 112
Garment Workers?

By David Bacon 
Progressive Media Project 
November 28, 2012

The day after Black Friday demonstrations of
workers and supporters in front of hundreds of
Walmart stores across the US., a fire killed 112
workers making clothes for Walmart at the Tazreen
Fashions factory in Bangladesh.  This was the most
recent of several such factory fires, leading to the
deaths of another 500 young women.

These fires are industrial homicides.  They can be
avoided.  The fact that they're not is a consequence
of a production system that places the profits of
multinational clothing manufacturers and their
contractors above the lives of people.  The same
profit-at-any-cost philosophy is leading to growing
protest among workers who sell those garments in
U.S. stores over their own wages and conditions,
especially at Walmart.

The Bangladesh fire tells us a lot about the
conditions under which the garments consumers
bought this Black Friday were made.  Reports from
the scene say there were no fire escapes.  Several
young women jumped from the windows to get away
from the flames, as their sisters did a century ago in
New York City, in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.  Most
Tazreen workers were trapped inside and burned to
death.

Walmart has a grading system for its contractors,
and had put the Tazreen factory on "orange" status
(green for good, yellow for not so good, orange for a
warning, and red for a contractor whose orders are
cut off).  Yet the company's inspectors must have
seen that there were no fire escapes, and kept giving
Tazreen orders.

The reason is clear.  Wages are 21¢ an hour.
Contractors like Tazreen compete against each other
to get the orders.  In a garment factory, the main
way they cut costs is by cutting wages and expenses
like safety.

Workers have been trying to win the right to
organize militant unions to raise those wages and
improve working conditions.   If workers had been
successful, they would have had the power to force
the company to build fire escapes and make the
factory safe.

But police in Bangladesh have been putting down
demonstrations by workers in this region for
months.  One worker activist, Aminul Islam, was
tortured and killed this year.   The government uses
low wages to attract manufacturers like Walmart.  It
does not enforce safety regulations, as the fires
clearly show. Walmart then uses the labor of the
women to boost its profits, and has the same
attitude towards their efforts to organize unions that
it does towards the efforts of its employees in the
U.S.  Total opposition.

This is not just Bangladesh's problem, however.
The system for garment production worldwide has
nations competing in the same way -- Bangladesh
vs. China, for instance.  Factory fires are the logical
result because safety, unions and higher wages are
costs that will make a country uncompetitive.  It's
also a U.S. problem.  According to the Economic
Policy Institute, Wal-Mart's trade deficit with China
alone cost 200,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and
2006.  Garment manufacturing in the U.S. has
practically disappeared.

Manufacturers claim that if wages and safety costs
rise, so will the prices of garments in U.S. stores.
Yet if wages of 21¢ an hour were doubled, it would
add only a few pennies to the cost of even a cheap
teeshirt.  Walmart customers on Black Friday spoke
out in favor of higher wages and more rights for
Walmart's store workers.  They would support the
same for factory workers in Bangladesh.  The
obstacle is the contractor system, competition
between contractors and countries, and a policy of
suppressing unions.  The system of self-policing
hailed by Walmart and large manufacturers does not
change this situation.  It is a fig leaf.

Instead, countries like Bangladesh and the U.S.
should implement the international accords that, on
paper, guarantee workers the right to organize
unions.  Consumers also have power.  They can
refuse to purchase garments made in factories like
the one that killed 112 young women, or that are
sold in stores that deny workers the right to
organize.

Whether at a sewing machine in Bangladesh or at a
cash register in California, workers have the right to
a safe job, a decent standard of living, and to
organize.  We need a system for producing and
selling clothing that reinforces those rights, not one
that works against them

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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