Published: Thursday, May 9, 2013

Death by Capitalism

Photo: Darshan Chakma

Photo: Darshan Chakma

At the moment of writing this, the number stood at 716. But that, obviously, is not the significant number here. Right now, the significant number is 16 days, as Dhaka holds its collective breath over the sound of the Western purse-strings tightening. 16 days and counting. How much longer before it is pushed to the periphery of our conscious? Just like the multitude of other such instances. Numbers were crunched, phone calls were made and the mindless political demonstrations were observed. Another month, give or take, they said hopefully.

And they’re probably right. Another month and the unwitting workers become martyrs in our industrial war against the moniker of a ‘developing country’. Another story on the blatant disregard for human rights will just be left floundering amidst a myriad of others. Why not look between the lines of the words issued by the BGMEA, the ILO and the Prime Minister in a faltering interview with CNN?

Workers are commodities and they have nothing to sell to the bourgeoisie but themselves. Karl Marx got that part spot on. Buildings fell in 2005 and 2010. Tazreen garments plant caught fire last year. What do all of these incidents have in common? The blood, the tears of anguish, the cries of helpless frustration? That may be so, but the overriding factor in all of them is this: you moved on. Second glances are something that we can ill afford right now. There’s that high GDP growth rate to maintain.

The clamour coming out of international factions baffled them. Labour unions? What ever could they mean by that? Giving the labour an official, united front to speak out? Haven’t they torched enough cars and vandalised enough streets in protest of meager pay and shameful work conditions? Do we even need to go into the history of labour unions in Britain? No one wants a Winter of Discontent here. And obviously, the Brits and Americans are hypocrites for demanding safety for our workers, our commodities, after their long history of abusing labour. Only when they moved the baton on to us do they start complaining. It’s quite clearly a conspiracy against the country for jumping in bed with the Russians (who have been decent enough to keep mum about the whole thing even though their markets are full up with clothes made here).

Photo: Darshan Chakma

Photo: Darshan Chakma

Any workers harbouring the hopes of having a say in how they work should look at the plight of Aminul Islam, and consider it a warning, too. Rights are not something that’s profitable for a country that only lags behind China as the world’s leading exporter in the garments sector, and they’re not exactly saints who adhere to labour rights religiously. Our consumerist hopes ride on the dream of one day overtaking China. If that means adding a few more to the ‘casualties’ column, would you? After all, it’s not you and you can’t have it both ways. When in doubt, we seem to pick the option that fattens our pockets. And in this race to the death, Aminul Islam committed the heinous crime of trying to organise labour, to give it a voice amidst the incessant drone of the sewing machines. He’s been surreptitiously disposed of as the official word (and I’m quoting here) is, “No, it is not true. Nobody knew he was a labour leader.”

Repercussions extend way beyond the realm of the rescue operations and the united front of volunteers that has left everybody gushing with nationalistic pride yet again (have we learned absolutely nothing?). Look beyond it and notice that it’s only a minor battle of a long winded war that shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Again, I feel a quote is in order. “Bangladesh now is a place for good conditions for the investment”. Obviously, these remarks were not made in reference to our state-of-the-art working facilities. It hints at the main reason why this will continue long into the foreseeable future. It’s just too damned profitable to not produce here. Anyone who tries to put in the example of Disney pulling out due to fatalities should know that Disney sourced less than 1% of their products from Bangladesh. Anything the BGMEA does will be to take advantage of free-trade laws and line their pockets. The long line of farcical moves goes on but it should be pretty redundant by now. The point was made decades ago and the writing on the wall has been plastered over with cheap paint. A few protesters outside of their stores are not going to deter retailers away from this stuffed goose.

So, 716 and counting. That is not the important number here, obviously. The important number is 9.5. That’s how many dollars a US firm saves on a single t-shirt by having it made here in Bangladesh. Would you not do the same? Of course, the aftermath of the tragedy has brought with it demands for reforms and rights and safety conditions. This article has focused on none of that and it isn’t even going to. If the shipbreaking industry taught us anything it is this: it needs to get infinitely worse before the proverbial silver lining appears on this bloody cloud. Pray do not focus on the numbers. 716 and counting. A million deaths is a statistic. Focus on how these words made your skin crawl and attempt to break out of this vicious cycle. If you fail, well then, ‘Anywhere in the world, any accident can take place.’