Bangladesh Workers Solidarity Network

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Vigil/picket of May 4, 2013

For Bangladeshi workers killed in the April 25th Rana factory collapse

Speech by  Litu Kabir,  poem read by  Padma Balasubramanian below.

Thanks everybody for being here today. It is a great day, a beautiful day and I am happy to be here with all of you!

And I remember that no more than a few days ago, at 9 AM in the morning on the other side of the world, in Bangladesh, a nine story building had collapsed, with 5000 workers in it. And people died.

People died. People died cruelly. With their limbs stuck under the rubble. They had no food and water for over four days. They died in anguish thinking of their infants that they had left behind, the father and the mother that they could no longer support with their meager earnings.

They died because they were made to go back into a building that was in danger of collapse. They died because their managers forced them to go in and work. They died for a job that paid $40 a month.

Now, since 2006 there have been over a thousand such deaths. We as consumers in the west do have responsibility. Because those people died making the clothes we wear.

They are being killed because in the chain connecting us to them something is amiss. Something is amiss because we know that for every garment piece that is sold at $100 in the western market, the governments of the consuming countries in the west earn more than $25 in tax, the retailer in the west makes $50 and of the rest nearly $24 go to the owner’s profit and costs, and a worker gets less than $1.

[Shouts of “Shame” from people assembled at vigil]

Now, the multi-national companies say that “Look, we don’t have any responsibility, because we are contracting to sub-contractors and they to sub-contractors”. They work in cooperation with the government [in the outsourced country}. And the government supports the owners of the factories. The police is on their [owner’s] side, the administration is on their side. Till today not a single factory owner has been punished. The workers, on the other hand, have no unions. They do have an industrial police, recently formed, not to protect them but for the express purpose of “keeping order” in the factories.

Now, this is an old story. In 1995, Gap made shirts in El Salvador. They sold for $20 outside. The worker got 18 cents. Men, women, children! toiled in sweatshop hell for 14 hours a day. Some formed a union. The subcontracting factory fired them. Others went on strike. At the end of the year Gap said we are moving to Asia.

The multi-national companies say this: “Look, if you don’t behave yourselves we will move away. We will leave El Salvador and we will go to Bangladesh, from Bangladesh we will go to Haiti. Why will go to the moon if you don’t behave”.

So how are we to protect poor working people’s rights on this world?

Well the first thing we have to realize is that the multi-nationals corporations aren’t about to go to the moon, there are no workers there, not yet. They live on this planet, where WE live and die.

For me, the way is that nowhere in the world should somebody be made to go back to burning buildings, collapsing buildings. If the rights of all workers are upheld, then in the so-called race to the bottom, there is a bottom below which we can’t go to.

So generally if we look at the alliances in the whole supply chain that gives us a guide of where we are and where we should be. There are the alliances between the multi-nationals and the governments, and the works, perhaps, with us.

And specifically, of course, and I say this specifically too certain aggrieved members of the Bangladeshi “Community” :

We do not undertake any action that is not in concert with the working people’s express demands.

Understand?

We work in humility. We know that we are not the workers themselves. In unity we see what the workers want, and to the best of our ability, we will give them our support.

If we do that, I think, we can achieve the goal that we – all of us – want. Which is: “The people united will never be defeated”

[Chorus of slogans from the people assembled at vigil]

 

Poem Read by Padma Balasubramanian

Your feet are raised toward Bangladesh     

By Ali Riaz, Translated for AlalODulal.org by Tibra Ali 

The music of your anklets used to ring out in your mother’s yard and your own home

Your upturned hands used to rise up in prayer

That was yesterday

 

That was when we sold your tears and sweat for cheap

 

You were extremely useful to us

Useful in terms of dollar value,

Useful in terms of international trade,

Useful for the governmental statistics

More than once, your face and your dedication to work I have used,

After creasing out the folds and wrinkles, to represent Bangladesh in brightly-lit seminar rooms.

 

But I didn’t have the time to look at your feet

Those feet that brought you from your village to this soulless concrete city

Brought you to this factory, to his high-rise block

 

That was yesterday

That was when we sold your tears and sweat for cheap

 

Never had the time to look at your eyes

Never took the time to listen to your voice

Never got to meet you

For we were too busy—

 

That was yesterday

That was when we sold your tears and sweat for cheap

 

Today your feet are raised, your motionless feet

Your kick has told me

That you are not a statistic, you are not just cheap labour, you are not just tears and sweat

 

Only yesterday the music your anklets rang out in your mother’s yard and your own home

 

Your sisters have been turned into cinders

Buried under a collapsed building

Unclaimed dead bodies, your sisters are lying in unmarked graves

 

How many times do I or we need to be reminded –

That you are not a statistic, you are not just cheap labour, you are not just tears and sweat?

 

Only yesterday the music of your anklets rang out in your mother’s yard and your own home

Tomorrow the music of your anklets won’t ring out in your mother yard or your own home

 

Your feet are now raised toward Bangladesh.

***

তোমার পা উদ্দত বাংলাদেশের দিকে


তোমার কঙ্কনের ধ্বনি বেজেছে মায়ের আঙ্গিনায়, তোমার সংসারে
তোমার উর্ধমুখি হাত উঠেছে প্রার্থনায়
সে গতকাল ছিলো

তখন তোমার অশ্রু ও ঘামকে আমরা বিক্রি করেছি সস্তা দামে

তুমি আমাদের কাছে বড় বেশি প্রয়োজনীয় ছিলে
ডলারের হিসাবে প্রয়োজনীয় ছিলে,
বিশ্ব-বানিজ্যে প্রয়োজনীয় ছিলে,
সরকারি পরিসংখ্যানে প্রয়োজনীয় ছিলে
বাংলাদেশ বলতে আমি তোমার মুখ, তোমার ব্যস্ততাকে
নিপাট নিভাজ করে, উজ্জ্বল সেমিনার কক্ষে সযত্নে দেখিয়েছি একাধিক বার

তোমার পায়ের দিকে চোখ মেলে তাকানো হয়নি
যে পা তোমাকে এনেছে গ্রাম থেকে প্রানহীন ইটের নগরে
এনেছে কারখানায়, সুউচ্চ ভবনে

সেটা গতকাল ছিল
তখন তোমার অশ্রু ও ঘামকে আমরা বিক্রি করেছি সস্তা দামে

তোমার চোখের দিকে তাকানো হয়নি
তোমার কণ্ঠস্বর শোনা হয় নি
আমাদের কখনো হয়নি দেখা
কেননা আমরা ব্যস্ত ছিলাম –

সেটা গতকাল ছিল
তখন তোমার অশ্রু ও ঘামকে আমরা বিক্রি করেছি সস্তা দামে

আজ তোমার উত্থিত পা, তোমার নিশ্চল পা
তোমার পদাঘাত বলেছে আমাকে
তুমি পরিসংখ্যান নও, তুমি সস্তা শ্রম নও, তুমি কেবল অশ্রু ও ঘাম নয়

গতকাল তোমার কঙ্কনের ধ্বনি বেজেছে মায়ের আঙ্গিনায়, তোমার সংসারে

তোমার বোনেরা অঙ্গার হয়েছে
চাপা পড়েছে ভবনের নিচে
তোমার বোনেরা অশনাক্ত লাশ হয়ে আছে শুয়ে আছে অচেনা কবরে

আমাকে, আমাদেরকে আর কতবার বলতে হবে -
তুমি পরিসংখ্যান নও, তুমি সস্তা শ্রম নও, তুমি কেবল অশ্রু ও ঘাম নয়?

গতকাল তোমার কঙ্কনের ধ্বনি বেজেছে মায়ের আঙ্গিনায়, তোমার সংসারে
আগামীকাল তোমার কঙ্কনের ধ্বনি বাজবেনা মায়ের আঙ্গিনায়, তোমার সংসারে

এখন তোমার পা উদ্দত বাংলাদেশের দিকে।