Bangladesh's rioting garment workers

Jeremy Seabrook
War on Want


On 29 July, a new minimum wage for garment workers in Bangladesh was set at 3,000 taka a month (US$40), a rise of 80% on the 1662.50 agreed in 2006 (US$24). Following this announcement, angry workers demonstrated all over Dhaka, vandalising shops, setting fire to cars, wrecking machinery, even attacking the upmarket shopping area of Gulshan Circle. The workers are demanding a minimum of 5,000 taka (about US$70). Three quarters of Dhaka’s 1.5 million garment workers are women, in an industry which earns 80% of the country’s foreign exchange. Some of the workers’ representatives have accepted the new minimum wage. Among those who have resisted, there have been arrests and imprisonment. The garments sector remains restive; and a sense of unfinished business hangs over the city.

For some years, minor disturbances have broken out almost daily on the streets of the capital – wages unpaid for months, rent hikes, abuse, fines for alleged indiscipline. Violence reflects a daily experience, in which workers are often killed in fires and accidents: in February 2010, 21 perished in a blaze in Gazipur in the industrial belt of Dhaka...

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