500,000 Workers Strike in Bangladesh: Ask Wal-Mart to Help

June, 21 2012 Share

On Monday, June 11, 2012, thousands of workers in the Ashulia Industrial Zone on the outskirts of Dhaka demanded an increase in their wages.  At first, the workers walked out of 100 garment factories.  By Friday, June 15, all 350 factories in the area were shut down, with 500,000 workers locked out!

Police fired rubber bullets at the striking workers, turned powerful water cannons on them and charged the workers, beating them with clubs.

The powerful president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Mr. Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said it was the "factory owners who were being victimized in some conspiracy."  Mr. Mohiuddin said the workers do not need a wage increase, that there is "no logic for increasing the wages of the workers."

In July 2010, the government and the BGMEA established a minimum wage of just 21 cents an hour, which was a far cry from the 43 cents an hour the workers needed.

Over the last two years, steady inflation has weakened the purchasing power of the taka (Bangladesh's currency) by over 30 percent, according to labor leaders and rank and file workers.  The 21-cent-an-hour minimum wage of 2010 is worth just 14.7 cents today.

At a minimum, the workers are demanding a 30 percent wage increase, which would raise their wage by 6.3 cents, bringing the new minimum wage to 27.3 cents an hour.

There is no garment corporation in the world that could not easily afford to pay at least 27.3 cents an hour as a minimum wage!

The workers are planning a protest this Friday, June 22 in Dhaka.

What is decided on will determine Bangladesh's future.  Working 12 to 16-hour shifts, six and seven days a week, the Bangladeshi women are among the hardest workers in the world, but also the poorest.  If the North American and European buyers can sit down together with the Bangladeshi government and workers, there is no reason that a fair wage cannot be settled upon very quickly.  Every single garment manufacturer and retailer could easily afford to pay 27.3 cents an hour.


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