Blood, Sweat and Fire - the price of clothing..
MOURNERS after fire at Garib and Garib factory which killed 21 workers. The Bangladeshi factory produced sweaters for Swedish retailers H&M, who have stores in Britain and more than 40 other countries.
ACTRESS Vanessa Redgrave has just won an award for her Driving Miss Daisy role in London’s West End, and was nominated for an Oscar for her part in the film Coriolanus, but tomorrow, Sunday March 4, she will be talking about quite a different 'star' to BBC Radio 4 listeners.
Yasmina is only a youngster, and most people will never have heard of her, yet her work is on show on every high street.
That's because Yasmina is a typical Bangladeshi garment worker, who could be working up to an 80 hour week, for just 15p an hour producing clothes that are sold by the UK high street chains. She can be sewing flat out to make sweaters that will sell in British stores for more than her whole month’s pay.
Describing the life of thousands like Yasmine, Redgrave will say: "You’re desperate for the toilet, but not allowed a break. Your boss comes over, slaps you round the face and shouts at you to work faster to meet his production target. For Yasmina in Bangladesh, this is the harsh reality, forced to leave school because her family were too poor to pay for her education."
The struggle of these Bangladeshi workers to make a living goes with dangerous neglect of their safety by employers. In little more than a decade 239 Bangladeshi workers have died in garment factory accidents.
The appeal which Vanessa is making for campaigning UK charity War on Want follows the second anniversary of a fire which killed 21 workers and injured 50 others turning out jumpers for H&M in the Garib & Garib factory at Gazipur, 30 miles north of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.
War on Want is not just sending handouts to the workers, it is helping them struggle and organise themselves for a better life.
Redgrave says: "Last year, with War on Want’s help, garment workers in Bangladesh won a 60 per cent increase in their minimum wage. For Yasmina this offers the hope of an education for her children. But there are thousands of women still facing long hours, unsafe conditions and often cheated out of their pay. So, with your support, War on Want can help more women like Yasmina to a better life."
Redgrave says five pounds, ten pounds – any donation – can make a big difference. Thirty pounds could pay to train workers like Yasmina, giving them the information and skills they need to negotiate better pay and decent conditions. One hundred pounds can pay legal fees to take action against abusive employers.
The Radio 4 Appeal for War on Want will be broadcast at 7.55 am on Sunday 4 March, repeated at 9.26 pm, and at 3.27 pm next Thursday.
After the appeal, for a week people can make a donation on the Radio 4 website at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/appeal. Donations can also be made by calling 0800 404 8144 or sending a cheque, payable to War on Want, to Freepost BBC Radio 4 Appeal, marked War on Want on the back of the envelope.
The garment workers' struggle is international. When workers in Bangladesh fought just to get the minimum wage, employers pleaded that they were losing contracts to even cheaper producing countries like Kampuchea (Cambodia). My trades union council has had words with that country's ambassador over the treatment of trade unionists.
News of a factory fire in Bangladesh towards the end of 2010 brought memories of a very similar and even more terrible tragedy in the United States a century earlier. This is a history that goes on.
It seems the US media was not so keen to remind people of that history, or report the Bangladeshi fire. Maybe because of who the factory was producing for. Like we say, the struggle is international.
There are various sources you can find including pictures on the Triangle shirtwaist factory that once shocked America and entered the working class movement's consciousness. You can make a start with this one here. Not particularly original but I know the author.
Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, is coming to Britain, a timely visit as we hear about the global sweatshop conditions that lie behind not just the High Street clothes but the Olympic hullaballoo.
When he speaks to a Jewish Socialists' Group meeting in London on Monday evening March 19 at 7.30pm we will also be recalling the Triangle fire whose 101st anniversary comes on March25.
That is at the
81-103 Euston Street, NW1 2EZ London, United Kingdom
It was at a meeting on April 2, 1911 in New York, to honour the victims of the Triangle shirtwaist fire that Rose Schneiderman, a union activist and socialist, declared:
"I know from my experience it is up to working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class mvement".