Sweatshops

Bangladesh fire deaths: murder by capitalists

On 9 July a fire at the Shezan Juice food and drink factory outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka killed dozens of workers. Initial reports confirmed 52 deaths, but searches were ongoing. 49 died from the fire and three after jumping from third floor windows; dozens were injured in that way. Some of the murdered workers were children. The workers were trapped by an illegally locked door. Yet Abul Hashem, chairman and managing director of Sajeeb Group, which owned the factory, has refused to accept any responsibility and blamed “workers’ carelessness”. For years Bangladesh has seen repeated...

Plutocrat philanthropy and workers' rights

Andrew Forrest is an Australian mining magnate and billionaire who set up a foundation with the seemingly benign purpose to “end modern slavery in our generation”. But as with Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation, all is not what it seems. In spite of his lobbying for patents and intellectual property, Bill Gates has actually helped some people in the global south get vaccinated. Forrest’s advocacy does very little to alleviate the material conditions which make modern slavery, namely poverty. Within Australia, Forrest’s chief lobbying has been for controls and limits on welfare...

Review: The Truth About Modern Slavery

Interview with Emily Kenway here. When I set out to research modern slavery for my master’s thesis in 2019, academic research which sought to understand modern slavery as a part of capitalism was few and far between, and information in the public sphere challenging the mainstream understanding of modern slavery was non-existent. Emily Kenway’s The Truth About Modern Slavery is an incredibly valuable text for that exact reason. It breaks down the way that the narrative of modern slavery is used by politicians in order to further reactionary political goals, for example tightening border...

Emile Zola, Socialism and Anti-Semitism

Émile Zola was one of the foremost novelists of late 19th century France. He was also sympathetic to socialism and a hero in the “Dreyfus Affair” of the 1890s. This interview with him by Max Beer appeared in the Social Democrat (magazine of the Social Democratic Federation, then the main Marxist group in Britain) of October 1902. Beer was the British correspondent of the German socialist paper Vorwärts and author of a History of British Socialism. Jean Jaurès and Jules Guesde, referred to by Zola, led two factions in the French socialist movement; the “Guesdists”, though generally more...

Turning the world inside out!

The disaster in Rana Plaza on 24 April 2013, where at least 1,138 Bangladeshi garment workers died, has spurred more people to fight for better conditions for the world’s 75 million garment workers. On the one-year anniversary, fashion industry figures organised the first annual and international “Fashion Revolution Day” (FRD). UK events included a debate in the House of Lords; “fash mob” in Carnaby Street by London College of Fashion students; and Twitter Q&A with experts, including the IndustriALL Global Union General Secretary talking about a new trade union organising drive in Bangladesh:...

End sweatshops! Support Bangladeshi workers!

When Rana Plaza, a multistorey building housing garment factories, collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in April 2013 the focus of the world media was on the conditions of Bangladeshi workers. It seemed that a turning point might be reached in their fight for rights. But a new investigation by ITV journalists, featuring the campaigning NGO Labour Behind the Label, has shown that little has changed for the better. In this programme two young women workers wearing hidden cameras went to work in two fairly typical garment factories, making clothes for Western companies. The women filmed...

Chinese migrants die in Italian factory

“The old dies and the new cannot manage to see day. In the interim a large diversity of morbid symptoms surges forth” (Antonio Gramsci) The latest data on the state of Italy’s economy puts it in second place behind Greece for the level of absolute and relative poverty, with half of its population on €1,000 a month or less and nearly 45% of young people without work. The victory this weekend of the Blairite mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, in the election for leader of the centre-left Democratic Party only added salt to the wounds. Renzi is a vile opportunist and enthusiastic cheerleader for...

Bangladeshi wage increase

Bangladeshi workers have won a 77% increase in the minimum wage which will rise to 5,300 takas (£43) per month. The increase comes after months of struggle following the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April, in which over 1,000 workers were killed. A 10-day wave of protests from 21 September saw tens of thousands of workers mobilise, demanding an even higher increase (8,114 takas, a 170% increase). Protests were continuing as recently as Thursday 14 November. Many protests had been met with police repression, including the use of tear-gas. The Bangladeshi minimum wage is one of the lowest in...

What's wrong with Len McCluskey's “opportunities”

In mid-July Labour Party leader Ed Miliband proposed various ‘reforms’ to Labour Party structures and procedures. Central to these was the proposal that unions affiliated to the Labour Party switch from ‘opt-out’ to ‘opt-in’. At present, a member of a trade union who does not ‘opt out’ of paying the political levy is automatically included as a levy-payer. If that union is affiliated to the Labour Party, anyone who does not ‘opt out’ counts automatically as an affiliated Labour Party member. Under Miliband’s proposals, only union members who indicate that they wish to ‘opt in’ would be counted...

Bangladesh: learning the right lessons

This article appeared in Our Times, a Canadian trade union magazine. Click here for the original article. The deaths of more than 1,000 workers in the Rana Plaza building collapse in April provoked a flurry of activity among campaigning organizations around the world. In particular, the online campaigners - groups like Avaaz, Change.org, and the relatively new SumOfUs.org - rushed to get out campaigns in response. These were all roughly along the same lines: we Western consumers must pressure the companies that make our clothing to behave better in the future. This is all very well meaning...

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