Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Asia, it's good news for a change

THERE was applause at the meeting on Wednesday evening when the speaker announced he could give us "one piece of good news - garment workers in Bangladesh have won an 80 per cent pay rise".

Besides our sympathy with these exploited workers, it made a welcome change from the cuts and attacks on living standards we were hearing about. And it is not the only piece of good news to reach us about struggles in south Asia.

The 80 per cent rise in the minimum wage of millions of workers was announced by Bangladesh labour minister Khandaker Mosharaff Hossain yesterday. It came after months of workers' strikes and protests.

The official minimum wage has been set at 3,000 takas (£28) a month, up from 1662 takas in the first raise since 2006. The new pay structure starts in November and has seven grades – the highest pay fixed at 9,300 takas.

"We have tried our best to meet the demands of the workers," Hossain told reporters in announcing the new wages after months of negotiations with garment factory owners.

Workers and labour rights groups had called for a monthly wage of 5,000 takas.

Garment workers in Bangladesh are the lowest paid in the world, and do not earn enough to pay for food and accommodation, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. There are some 4,000 factories employing more than two million workers, mostly women. The industry earns more than £7.7 billion a year, nearly 80 per cent of the country's export income.

International clothing companies Wal-Mart, Tesco, H&M, Zara, Carrefour, Gap, Metro, JCPenney, Marks & Spencer, Kohl's, Levi Strauss and Tommy Hilfiger all import in bulk from Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi manufacturers say they are squeezed between a slump in prices on the international market due to the global crisis, and higher costs due to energy crisis and poor infrastructure. But after months of strikes and workers' protests the government says the employers should pay higher wages.

The second piece of news comes from across the sub-continent in Pakistan, in the form of a despatch from Farouk Tariq, of the Pakistan Labour Party, to the Scottish Socialist Party website.

This is to inform you that Faisalabad power looms workers strike is over. It ended with a complete victory. The Commissioner of Faisalabad Mr. Tahir Hussain announced at the rally that all demands of the workers will be met. He said that we have received the notification of 17 percent rates increase for all the workers late last night and that will be implemented in its full spirit. The arrested four leaders case will be withdrawn after an initial inquiry in consultation with Labour Qaumi Movement leadership.

This was after over 25,000 workers marched to the city center and picketed the office of the Commissioner. Today, workers marched over 20 kilometers by foot and it was a total peaceful manifestation. We had made it clear earlier to all the workers as well that any one involved in any violent incident will be kicked out of the organisation. The bosses were too depressed to do any provocation. Workers marched despite a heavy rain. At one point, the police tried to block the workers marching towards the commissioner office. Workers broke the blockade and went on marching towards the office. All roads leading to Commissioner officer were blocked by police and every where there were countless heads of power looms workers.

It was one of the largest gathering that labour Qaumi Movement had mobilized in support of the strike.

Here in Lahore, National Trade Union Federation had organised a protest camp in front of Punjab Assembly building where scores of trade union activists turned up to show solidarity with the striking workers. Here, I was asked by LQM leadership to speak to the workers in Faisalabad by telephone. I could hear the thunder storm slogans of the workers in favour of Labour Party Pakistan and National Trade Union Federation. Yousaf Baluch, chairperson NTUF have thanked all the national and international support for the strike that paved the way for a complete victory of the working class in Faisalabad. over 250,000 workers rates will be increased by 17 percent as a result of this 9 days strike. Four workers leaders are in jail on false charges of violence.

Thank you all, here is at one good news from Pakistan.

Copyright Scottish Socialist Party 2010

In his gaffe-prone sales tour to India with Chancellor George Osborne, Tory prime minister David Cameron must be feeling grateful that the only problem he has faced so far in imposing his cuts, from the leaders of British trade unions, was how politely he should decline their invitation to address the trades union congress. (He has offered to send one of his Lib Dem lackeys instead).

It's eighteen months since a gathering of London trades unionists heard from a delegation of garment workers from Bangladesh. Afterwards I gave them a copy of the Grunwick film DVD to take back, a present from Brent TUC. It looks like they can give us some lessons on how to fight for workers' rights.

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