In January 2019, Dhaka garment workers organized massive strikes and protests against low wages. Parsa Sanjana Sajid reminds us that this is only the most recent occurence of a long struggle, and talking with several of the organizers, she also presents the risks undertaken by those who speak out.
The year began on notes of dissent in Bangladesh when for several days in January 2019, the industrial ring around the capital Dhaka simmered with protests as manifestations of worker rage , workers employed by the country’s export-oriented garments manufacturing industry. Confronted with discrepancies in a new pay scale which had already disappointed them, garments workers, majority of whom are women asserted themselves on the streets to publicly furnish the iniquities plaguing them at work. Such outpourings in public are both crucial and clarifying. Crucial because choked off from meaningful avenues of bargain, streets are one of the few ways to press their demands. Clarifying because as demonstrations — road blocks, strikes — were underway it was another showing of how stripped off of “public,” public spaces are; in short order militarized industrial police and paramilitary forces were out to disperse protesting workers. The streets were eventually cleared but not without a fight, battle-scarred workers clashing with violent enforces of the law. Yet the fight is inherently unfair, a fight they shouldn’t have to fight, and encumbers them with disproportionate sacrifice — in January, one worker died from police firings into the demonstrations.
The brands and buyers sourcing from this industry are familiar — Walmart, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger to name a few — so are worker plights from colossal disasters which unfortunately are endemic to this industry. But less so, the husks polished off from this grain of brand and disaster are what fuels both, the unresolved qualification to the terms of employment across the industry, to the term employment itself, which is what the textile workers are battling to foreground.