Thousands of frustrated garment workers took to the streets of Dhaka’s Gulshan area this morning to protest against the government setting a minimum monthly salary of Tk 3,000 (US$43).
The rioting began at 9am and lasted around an hour. At least 50 shop fronts have been smashed by rocks. Police estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 garment workers were involved, and that around 40 percent of the protesters were women.
The government announced its decision to increase the minimum wage for garment workers by 80 percent last Wednesday. However workers were disappointed that their demand for a salary of Tk 5,000 was not met. Some observers have noted that their salary is the world’s lowest. Garment workers are currently paid less per day than the men who drove horse-drawn streetcars in New York in the 1880s (the pay was $1.75).
Topu Jamal, the owner of Monno and Shinepuker homewares said that it will cost him around 10 lakh to repair the damage to his showroom.
He said, “The garment workers are poor and hungry, so if the government doesn’t fix the monthly salary at Tk 5,000 things will be broken every day.”
Topu reported seeing men throwing rocks at the glass shop front as some of the female workers laughed.
The rioting began in Mohakali before it moved through Gulshan 1 and Gulshan 2 along Gulshan Avenue, one of Dhaka’s most affluent areas.
“The workers attacked the markets here because garments are sold in these shops,” said Assistant Police Commissioner of Gulshan Division, Anis Jaman.
The commissioner said that the workers ran away when 50 police arrived on the scene around 10am. Thirteen people have been arrested and 12 members of the police force sustained minor injuries.
Hafiz Khatun, executive sales and marketing manager of Athena furniture store said that 11 lakh damage has been caused to Athena’s glass front and products. She said, “It’s bad that the garment workers are paid so little, but now the public is suffering too.”
I posted the link to this story on my Facebook wall yesterday and there were some very interesting points made. I have included the comments below:
Quazi Zulquarnain: Interesting. But having been smack right in the middle of this today, the one thing tht struck me as being odd was that most of the agitators were young men in the 15-21 demographic. I seriously doubt if too many of these people are actually garment workers, but maybe thts just me. Whts sad is that we as a nation dont understand the difference between civil agitation and vandalism.
Taher: I can’t see any valid reason of this rampage today just after 1 day of 80% wage increase. Violent street protest should always be the last pawn in any movement, when every other way fails. I still doubt that the ‘real garment workers’ were behind this event today totally. Go slow while validating events like this unless you want to become another “Munni Shaha” 🙂
It is a very sensitive and critical issue. This 300% wage increase can also be a “conspiracy” who knows. Wage Board cannot fix anything on only survival issue – it is like a 3 party agreement – all have to accept and have to run the show.
Anis: I don’t advocate violence. In fact, I denounce it..I believe non-cooperation movement (It has to be non-violent) is the most effective way to bring your oppressors down to their knees. All I want to say is the garment workers have been deprived for long..Now it’s time to address their issues….
I agree that some “external elements” might be there to create tension or make the situation worse. But it is used as an excuse most of the time.
Sabine: What is the difference between civil aviation and vandalism?! I don’t advocate violence but it’s hard to keep a steady head if you’re hungry, tired and overworked. a witness told me he saw 40% women, but everyone said it was only men who threw rocks etc. I think this food chain is terribly unfair – the consumers buy cheap clothes, the bosses get fat and the factory workers sweat. You know what Gandhi said? “Pay the worker before his sweat has dried.”
Quazi Zulquarnain: Well, for starters, civil agitation is civil and vandalism is most definitely not. I completely agree that the food chain is terribly unfair and even exploitative in many cases. And i also vindicate the pay rise. What i cannot support is some so called ‘garment worker’ breaking a cng to bits (and i saw this happen today). How do you rationalize that? For me atleast two wrongs don’t make a right.
Sabine: No, they don’t make a right, but this is a tough political environment (ie it’s very easy for people to believe there may be other forces behind this) and i’m not sure whether anyone would listen to them unless they did something drastic. no one’s been listening to them for a long time, as morshed said. they have nothing, and have nothing to lose. that said, i think it’s really sad.
Taher: My concern is not there – a big and bottom-line industry is not like running govt. offices. What I worry is that, this rise (5,000 Tk, 300%) will shut down many small RMG factory. Many workers will loose job. at the same time this rise will increase rent and inflation, which will in turn affect all low income people of every sector. We have to understand that labor is also like any other product in the market. Their value is cheap not because we are paying them less – it is also because the supply is too much. I am always for the idea of job for all – even with a low salary than job for some with a good salary.
David: Ah, the specter of conspiracy and foreign hand! What year is this?