Friday, November 30, 2012

Scorched Earth

Trey Smith

The worst factory fire in Bangladesh’s history, which broke out on Saturday night in the Ashulia industrial zone, has exposed the ugly workings of global capitalism.

At least 112 workers died in the blaze, either through suffocation and burns, or from jumping out of the eight-story building in a desperate attempt to escape. The fire, which began on the ground floor, where flammable textile and yarn was stored, blocked the stairs. The only other exits were locked.

Photographs of the burnt-out Tazreen Fashions building show rows of incinerated workspaces where hundreds of workers produced clothes for major European and American corporations, including Walmart and the C&A retail chain. The lack of elementary fire safety precautions was matched by long hours, poor conditions and low pay. Survivors explained that they were owed three months of unpaid wages, plus bonuses.

In the fire’s immediate aftermath, a well-practiced cover-up swung into operation at all levels. The government, local and national authorities and employers’ groups shed a few crocodile tears over the deaths, announced sham inquiries and promised pittances in compensation to the families of the victims. All of this is aimed at silencing critics and preventing unrest until the story drops out of the news.

At the same time, police, soldiers and the country’s notorious Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) were deployed against distraught and angry relatives at the scene and also protests by workers that erupted on Monday. To justify the security build-up in the industrial zones, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed told parliament, without a shred of evidence, that the fire was “pre-planned” — that is, an act of sabotage — directed at destabilizing the government.
~ from The Brutal Face of Global Capitalism by Peter Symonds ~
Before any of you think to yourselves, "Hey, it IS Bangladesh. What do you expect?" it should be remembered that this same scenario of locked exits and fires has popped up numerous times over the past 100 years in THIS country. Heck, within the past decade in, I believe, North Carolina, several workers at a textiles facility died in a fire because all the exits were blocked.

The reason many employers lock the exits is because they don't want their slaves workers to take breaks -- even when breaks are mandated by law! Breaks represent downtime and downtime means fewer profits. If you lock the exits and employ menacing supervisors or security to patrol the facility, workers feel pressured to work at breakneck speed without pausing to breathe!

It's important to terrorize employees, particularly in the textile industry. Americans and other westerners certainly don't want to pay high prices for crumby t-shirts, pants, scarves, shoes and handbags! We expect to pay the lowest prices possible and the only we can do that -- while providing the fat cats with mountains of profit -- is for textile workers to be treated like little more than slaves or indentured servants.

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