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who's responsible for the bangladesh factory fire - article and photoessay

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  • David Bacon
    WHO S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FIRE THAT KILLED 112 GARMENT WORKERS? By David Bacon Progressive Media Project, 11/28/12 The day after Black Friday demonstrations of
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 30, 2012
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      WHO'S RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FIRE THAT KILLED 112 GARMENT WORKERS?
      By David Bacon
      Progressive Media Project, 11/28/12

      The day after Black Friday demonstrations of
      workers and supporters in front of hundreds of
      Walmart stores across the US., a fire killed 112
      workers making clothes for Walmart at the Tazreen
      Fashions factory in Bangladesh. This was the
      most recent of several such factory fires,
      leading to the deaths of another 500 young women.

      These fires are industrial homicides. They can
      be avoided. The fact that they're not is a
      consequence of a production system that places
      the profits of multinational clothing
      manufacturers and their contractors above the
      lives of people. The same profit-at-any-cost
      philosophy is leading to growing protest among
      workers who sell those garments in U.S. stores
      over their own wages and conditions, especially
      at Walmart.

      The Bangladesh fire tells us a lot about the
      conditions under which the garments consumers
      bought this Black Friday were made. Reports from
      the scene say there were no fire escapes.
      Several young women jumped from the windows to
      get away from the flames, as their sisters did a
      century ago in New York City, in the Triangle
      Shirtwaist fire. Most Tazreen workers were
      trapped inside and burned to death.

      Walmart has a grading system for its contractors,
      and had put the Tazreen factory on "orange"
      status (green for good, yellow for not so good,
      orange for a warning, and red for a contractor
      whose orders are cut off). Yet the company's
      inspectors must have seen that there were no fire
      escapes, and kept giving Tazreen orders.

      The reason is clear. Wages are 21¢ an hour.
      Contractors like Tazreen compete against each
      other to get the orders. In a garment factory,
      the main way they cut costs is by cutting wages
      and expenses like safety.

      Workers have been trying to win the right to
      organize militant unions to raise those wages and
      improve working conditions. If workers had been
      successful, they would have had the power to
      force the company to build fire escapes and make
      the factory safe.

      But police in Bangladesh have been putting down
      demonstrations by workers in this region for
      months. One worker activist, Aminul Islam, was
      tortured and killed this year. The government
      uses low wages to attract manufacturers like
      Walmart. It does not enforce safety regulations,
      as the fires clearly show. Walmart then uses the
      labor of the women to boost its profits, and has
      the same attitude towards their efforts to
      organize unions that it does towards the efforts
      of its employees in the U.S. Total opposition.

      This is not just Bangladesh's problem, however.
      The system for garment production worldwide has
      nations competing in the same way -- Bangladesh
      vs. China, for instance. Factory fires are the
      logical result because safety, unions and higher
      wages are costs that will make a country
      uncompetitive. It's also a U.S. problem.
      According to the Economic Policy Institute,
      Wal-Mart's trade deficit with China alone cost
      200,000 U.S. jobs between 2001 and 2006. Garment
      manufacturing in the U.S. has practically
      disappeared.

      Manufacturers claim that if wages and safety
      costs rise, so will the prices of garments in
      U.S. stores. Yet if wages of 21¢ an hour were
      doubled, it would add only a few pennies to the
      cost of even a cheap teeshirt. Walmart customers
      on Black Friday spoke out in favor of higher
      wages and more rights for Walmart's store
      workers. They would support the same for factory
      workers in Bangladesh. The obstacle is the
      contractor system, competition between
      contractors and countries, and a policy of
      suppressing unions. The system of self-policing
      hailed by Walmart and large manufacturers does
      not change this situation. It is a fig leaf.

      Instead, countries like Bangladesh and the U.S.
      should implement the international accords that,
      on paper, guarantee workers the right to organize
      unions. Consumers also have power. They can
      refuse to purchase garments made in factories
      like the one that killed 112 young women, or that
      are sold in stores that deny workers the right to
      organize.

      Whether at a sewing machine in Bangladesh or at a
      cash register in California, workers have the
      right to a safe job, a decent standard of living,
      and to organize. We need a system for producing
      and selling clothing that reinforces those
      rights, not one that works against them.

      ______________


      BLACK FRIDAY PROTESTS HIT WALMART STORES ACROSS THE U.S.
      Photoessay by David Bacon
      In These Times, web edition
      http://www.inthesetimes.org/article/14226/the_walmart_black_friday_protests

      RICHMOND, CA (11/24/12) - On past Black
      Fridays, the U.S.'s annual post-Thanksgiving
      shopping celebration, Walmart stores have seen
      such a crush of shoppers that people have been
      trampled trying to get through the doors. On
      this Black Friday, however, shoppers saw
      protesting workers at over 1000 stores.
      Walmart is the world's third-largest
      corporation, and its largest retail store chain,
      with over two million workers in more than 15
      countries. It has a record of low wages, and an
      overt policy of fighting any attempt by its
      employees to organize unions or other independent
      organizations. One study by the University of
      California in Berkeley found that wages are so
      low that its workers in the state receive
      annually $86 million in public benefits for
      things like health care and food stamps, paid for
      by taxpayers.
      People have criticized the chain's low
      wages and unfair competition with local
      businesses for years. And for a long time the
      company has been able to keep its workers from
      joining in. Where it could, Walmart has tried to
      give itself a paternalistic,
      we're-all-one-big-family face. Where that hasn't
      worked, it's resorted to the age-old tactics of
      firings and fear.
      But Walmart workers are waking up.
      They've organized a workers association called
      OURWalmart (Organization United for Respect at
      Walmart), and supported by a number of unions, a
      series of work stoppages. The latest and most
      extensive took place on Black Friday.
      Richmond, California, was ground zero for
      national Black Friday protests, as two
      international union presidents and one of the
      most pro-labor voices in Congress joined fired
      workers and some still employed, and several
      hundred of their supporters. At one point,
      Service Employees International Union president
      Mary Kay Henry and Rev. Carol Been, senior
      organizer for Clergy and Laity United for
      Economic Justice, led a delegation into the
      store, and tried to present its manager with a
      petition demanding the rehire of fired workers,
      and respect for their right to freedom of
      expression and organization. The manager refused
      to accept it.
      Meanwhile, fired workers themselves
      angrily confronted Walmart officials, supported
      by a handful of those who were still employed,
      and had clocked out in order to participate in
      the protest. "I was fired because I protested
      the racist remarks of a store manager," declared
      Misty Tanner. According to SEIU, when an
      African-American associate used a rope to move
      merchandise, the manager, Mr. VanRiper said,
      "Leave it up to me, I'd put that rope around your
      neck." Subsequently, when a Walmart worker was
      speaking with members of the news media, Mr.
      VanRiper threatened to run her over with his car.
      Tanner worked for four years at the
      Richmond store that was the object of the
      demonstration, most recently on a night crew
      doing renovations. She says she was suddenly
      told that there was no more work for her, despite
      the fact that renovations continued afterwards.
      Managers refused to comment on her case, or make
      any other statement.
      The Richmond protest was organized by OUR
      Walmart, and the group's green teeshirts were
      omnipresent in the crowd. While it is supported
      by the United Food and Commerical Workers and
      other unions, it is an autonomous workers'
      association, according to the Walmart workers
      themselves. In the days prior to Black Friday,
      Walmart filed charges with the National Labor
      Relations Board, alleging that UFCW and Walmart
      were organizationally tied, and that the union
      had violated the law by conducting recognition
      strikes for longer than thirty days without
      filing for an NLRB representation election.
      "This just shows the lack of respect
      Walmart has for us," Tanner said. "We're not
      organizing a union, we're demanding respect from
      the company and an end to the way they violate
      our rights. OUR Walmart is an organization of
      Walmart associates."
      Walmart's NLRB complaint, calling the
      work stoppages illegal, seemed an effort to head
      off worker participation in the protests, timed
      to appeal to customers on the single biggest
      shopping day of the year. Big retailers like
      Walmart rely on the day after Thanksgiving to
      kick off the holiday shopping frenzy and
      guarantee the year's profits, putting their
      operations into the black, hence the name. In
      response, OUR Walmart organizers said protests
      took place at over 1000 stores in 46 states.
      Bill Simon, Walmart's US president and
      chief executive officer, told the British daily
      The Guardian that "only 26 protests occurred at
      stores last night [the evening before Black
      Friday] and many of them did not include any
      Walmart associates. We had very safe and
      successful Black Friday events at our stores
      across the country and heard overwhelmingly
      positive feedback from our customers," he said.
      He might not have heard from Richmond managers,
      however, since that store was almost empty for
      hours, and many customers turned away after
      associates outside explained why they were there.
      U.S. Congressman George Miller, who
      sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act labor
      reform bill in the last few sessions of Congress,
      told workers in the store parking lot that the
      Richmond community, which he represents, would
      rise to their defense. "We won't let any
      employer punish workers for trying to organize,"
      he said, "especially when they are calling for a
      decent standard of living, something all workers
      deserve."
      Henry responded to the Walmart unfair
      labor practice charge by asking, "Do you know
      what is an unfair labor practice?" She answered
      her own question: "Unfair labor is working full
      time and living in poverty. Unfair labor is
      seeing your health care premiums skyrocket year
      after year. Unfair labor is being denied the
      hours needed to support your family. Unfair labor
      is being punished for exercising your freedom of
      speech and association. Walmart workers know what
      unfair labor is-because they endure it every
      day."



      Pickets outside the Richmond, CA Walmart store.



      Community supporters hold placards anouncing that
      the actions of Walmart workers in stopping work
      constitute a "ULP Strike" -- that is, a protest
      over Walmart's illegal retaliation against
      workers for their collective activity in OUR
      Walmart.



      Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and
      Commercial Workers, speaks at the rally outside
      the store.



      Rev. Carol Been and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry
      lead a delegation into the store, to present a
      petition calling on Walmart to stop firing
      workers and to respect their rights.



      Walmart associates stand inside the entrance to
      the store, demanding a meeting with store
      managers and the rehiring of those fired for
      exercising their right to organize.



      Raymond Bravo (r), an associate still employed in
      the Richmond store, tells a store manager that
      Walmart should rehire the workers it has fired.



      Workers walk out of the store entrance after
      making their demand that Walmart rehire those who
      have been fired.



      Congressman George Miller (l) talks with SEIU
      President Mary Kay Henry (r) and UFCW President
      Joe Hansen (c).



      The Liberation Brass Orchestra plays outside the
      Richmond store during the protest.



      SEIU President Mary Kay Henry holds a sign
      supporting the desire of Walmart workers and
      Richmond residents for better wages and benefits
      at the retail chain.



      Coming in 2013 from Beacon Press:
      The Right to Stay Home: Ending Forced Migration
      and the Criminalization of Immigrants



      Nationwide Walmart Workers' Strike Defies Retail
      Giant's Anti-Union Intimidation Tactics
      Interview with David Bacon, by Scott Harris,
      Between the Lines radio newsmagazine
      http://www.btlonline.org/2012/seg/121207cf-btl-bacon.html



      See also Illegal People -- How Globalization
      Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants
      (Beacon Press, 2008)
      Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008
      http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002

      See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US
      Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)
      http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575

      See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the
      U.S./Mexico Border (University of California,
      2004)
      http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html

      Entrevista de David Bacon con activistas de #yosoy132 en UNAM
      Interview of David Bacon by activists of #yosoy132 at UNAM (in Spanish)
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyF6AJQa9po&feature=relmfu

      Two lectures on the political economy of migration by David Bacon
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GgDWf9eefE&feature=youtu.be
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd4OLdaoxvg&feature=related

      For more articles and images, see http://dbacon.igc.org
      --
      __________________________________

      David Bacon, Photographs and Stories
      http://dbacon.igc.org

      __________________________________

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