Workers burn to death in Bangladesh
There is much talk now in all sorts of bourgeois media all over the world about the glory and resurgence of the ‘emerging’ countries and their economy. The media is never tired of highlighting that these countries are turning out to be the new locomotive of the global capitalist economy. The significance of their role in resolving the intensifying crisis of world capitalism is also being asserted ceaselessly. There is also talk of the shifting of the balance of economic power and importance towards the emerging countries such as China, India, Brazil etc. These countries are becoming more and more important to world capital.
But it is becoming more and more impossible for the bourgeoisie to keep intact the mask over its inherent hypocrisy. The material conditions of world capital are forcefully tearing asunder this mask more and more each passing day. Its inhuman inner reality is being more and more exposed. The bourgeoisie, its scholars and apologists, never tire of boasting about its commitment to humanitarianism and its achievements in ensuring human rights and values everywhere in the world. Perhaps these human rights and values are not meant for the working class! To the bourgeoisie they seem to be nothing but parts in the machinery for commodity production for more profit!
Height of hypocrisy exposed!
Not caring a straw for all this bourgeois propaganda, boasting and tall claims, a devastating fire broke out in Tazreen Fashions, the biggest garment factory in Bangladesh on 24th November, 2012. This factory is situated in a place very near to the capital of the country. According to official reports 112 workers were burnt to death in this inferno. But this crime of Bangladeshi capitalism was aided and abetted in every way by the so called ‘civilized’ and developed fractions of world capital. The reality of the actual fatality and the casualty figures is very likely to be much higher and different from the official estimates, figures and reports. Fire service officials have found that the nine storey factory building had no valid safety license and it had permission only for three floors.
A high-power government investigation committee has concluded that it was a case of sabotage. The chief of this committee has told PTI ( Press Trust of India) that the workers were told to stay inside for a “fire drill” and were killed in the horrific blaze. According to him “it appeared a case of arson. It was a case of sabotage when the victims were forced to stay inside to be burnt to death"*.According to Mr. Khandker, an additional secretary of the home ministry, “The iron gates were closed immediately (after the fire broke out) so the workers could not run out to safety and they (culprits) asked workers to stay inside for ‘fire drill’ …..if it was really a fire drill, it would have required the workers to evacuate the scene in quickest possible time”*. Mr. Khandker did not suggest the motive behind it despite speculation that the country’s fast growing crucial garments sector was exposed to an international conspiracy.
According to international labour activists the garment factories in Bangladesh produce clothes and garments for global clothing brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Gap and those sold by Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco. This fatal accident in the workplace by the breaking out of a devastating fire is no exception. Such fatal accidents in workplaces are quite common not only in Bangladesh but in most of the ‘emerging countries’ and rising economic powers such as India, China etc. The worsening working and living conditions of the overwhelming majority of working class people, and decreasing expenditure for adequate safety measures, are the most important conditions for their emergence as rising economic and military powers.
As these emerging bourgeoisie are rising, working class people in the ‘emerging countries’ are suffering and dying more and more due to increasing poverty, misery, starvation, worsening living and working conditions and increasing indifference to adequate safety measures. The developed parts of the world bourgeoisie and their scholars very often pretend to be sharply critical about the ‘inhuman’ conditions of the work place in the ‘emerging’ countries and blame the bourgeoisie of those countries. But the more ‘civilized’, developed, ‘humanitarian’ and democratic parts of the world bourgeoisie are gleefully utilizing this precarious, pathetic situation of the working class in the emerging countries to maintain the rate of profit and the share of the world market! What a height of hypocrisy!
Economic conditions today and capitalism's response
World capital has been passing through its phase of permanent crisis since the early thirties. The definitive proof of this phase was forcefully announced by the great depression of 1929. The relative saturation of the world market is at the root of this. Capitalist production can be increased in geometric progression but the indispensable market can expand only in arithmetic progression. So there is every possibility of a gap between the total amount produced and the total amount the market can absorb. This situation is worsened further when the capitalist production and market has established itself and become more predominant in each and every part of the world, pushing the pre-capitalist sector of commodity production and exchange to a more and more insignificant position. This worsening of the situation was suppressed to some extent in the wake of the second world war, the great devastation that it caused and the increasing state intervention in the economic life of society. But the permanent crisis raised its ugly head again towards the end of the sixties. Since then it has been continuing almost unabated with temporary recovery through the policy of debt and the artificial creation of markets. Continuation of this policy has landed capitalism in an even more precarious situation. It has been able to find no real solution but only two actually ineffective solutions which are being implemented alternatively or both at the same time in different degrees. These are the polices of more debt and more printing of paper money on the one hand and the policy of austerity and curtailment of expenditure in the social sector on the other. Various capitalist factions are also intent on the curtailment of expenditure for the necessary safety measures in the workplace. Capital can not do otherwise in today’s situation.
Why this frequent recurrence of work place accidents?
As we said above capital cannot but spend less and less for safety measures and resort to further worsening of living and working conditions. This is one of the most important conditions of its continued existence in this advanced phase of decadence. Running after and maintaining the rate of profit and capturing an adequate portion of the relatively saturated world market by lowering the cost of production and increasing further the intensity of exploitation and work load can only lead to increasing numbers of fatal accidents in the workplace including the transport sector. So what has happened to the hapless workers in the garment industry in Bangladesh can very likely befall working class people in other parts of the world sooner or later. Such accidents and killing of workers are likely to increase in the coming period everywhere in the world. So there is every possibility of the increasing number of fatal accidents both in the productive sector and transport sector which is mostly used by working class people. Accidents in the transport sector are on the increase in the European countries also.
Effective foolproof measures for the prevention of accidents or putting an end to their fatality do not at all depend on the good will or responsibility of this or that faction of capital or this or that capitalist state. It is the inevitable consequence of the compulsion of the material conditions of capitalism in this phase of its life. Not only that, diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, plague etc., which were thought to have been banished from society in the European countries, are returning again.
Resorting to increasing attacks on the living and working conditions in such a fully fledged, unhampered way is a little bit difficult to practice immediately in the heartland of capital. The advanced fractions of capital need to do this for their survival. But they also need to do it in a very sophisticated, selective way with high doses of mystification. With this end in view they are shifting more and more of the productive apparatus, particularly the manufacturing sector, to the backward areas of capital. The availability of cheap labor power and worse working conditions in abundance in the emerging economies is pushing them towards the emerging countries. Thus not only the Bangladeshi fraction of capital but the fractions of developed western capital are equally responsible for this workplace massacre of the hapless workers. Thus they are all most ferocious hypocrites, culprits and murderers.
The government, media and various sectors of the state apparatus are all busy finding out some scapegoats responsible for this most barbarous burning and killing of such a large number of workers in the garment factory. They are also floating various conspiracy theories against various fractions of native or international capital. All these may be there in one form or another. But indifference to the safety and wellbeing of working class people, and conspiracy and scapegoating are inseparably linked with capital, particularly in this advanced phase of its decadence. All of them are trying their best to hide the truth from the working class people that the world capitalist system today is the real killer. It is everyday killing thousands of people in all parts of the world through poverty, misery, starvation, famine, unemployment, homelessness, exposure to extreme vagaries of weather conditions, intensifying pollution of air, water, environment, disease, pestilence, suicides, drug addictions, drunkenness, terrorism and war. It is also killing hundreds and thousands of people through frequently occurring apparently natural disasters in the root of which is in reality the intensifying greed and competition for more profit of all fractions of international capital.
The sole task of each and every capitalist state today in each and every part of the world is to defend the interest of national or native capital in whatever way possible. The state controls the management of the national economy not only politically but also economically today. State intervention and interference in the economy is indispensable for the survival of each and every national fraction of global capital now. Further intensification of exploitation and worsening of living and working conditions is part and parcel of state policy today. But the state feigns ignorance and resorts to scapegoating of this or that faction of capital or concocts various conspiracy theories.
Did the state of Bangladesh not know that the factory in question produced garments for the renowned multinational brands mentioned above and resorted to super exploitation for more profit and violated the safety rules? It must have known. But ironically this very capitalist state has declared a national day of mourning for the workers burnt to death solely for keeping the rate of profit high. Does this not very vividly reflect the height of hypocrisy of the capitalist governments whose raison d’être is nothing but the defense of the interest of capital?
Are these steps not being resorted to with the sole purpose of mystifying the struggling masses of workers and derailing the process of coming to consciousness?
Working class movements in Bangladesh
There have been reports of vigorous and violent protest movements of the working class people that have taken place in Bangladesh against this enormous death and devastation inflicted on the working class people quite often. They have raised their voice against the extreme negligence of the authority, lack of proper safety measures, lack of concern for the life of the workers and worsening living and working conditions. They seem to have realized that the sole concern of capital today is nothing but more profit and an increased share of the world market through the intensification of their exploitation.
What the working class should do
Working class people should seriously reflect on all these events, in order to clarify about what is really responsible for the frequent recurrence of workplace accidents resulting in the death and maiming of increasing numbers of workers in all parts of the world particularly in the areas of historically backward capital. This reflection will push them towards the conclusion that there is no solution to the frequent recurrence of workplace accidents and massacres within the confines of the present day world capitalist system. The only solution lies in the ability of the international working class to rise in struggle against the real monstrous enemy and killer, the global capitalist system. The immediate struggles against the increasing attacks of capital on living and working conditions all over the world have to be internationally united. These immediate struggles have to be developed into conscious political struggles against the capitalist states. These political struggles have to be further developed to confront and oust the capitalist states in each and every part of the world. There is no other way.
This article was written by the ICC's section in India.