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  • Writer's pictureIWW Ireland

International solidarity gains victory in workers struggle in Bangladesh

After months of protests and international solidarity actions the owners of two big garment factories finally pay owed wages and severance payments.

The workers of Dragon Sweater factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh were laid off illegally during the Pandemic (Starting March, 2020) without paying them their outstanding wages and benefits. The workers started a movement to realize their demands and force the owners to pay their dues. International organizations and initiatives like Global May Day also started holding solidarity demonstrations.

So, the Dragon Sweater workers protesting for their owed wages and benefits are divided into three categories:

Category 1: Monthly Income Workers (90) Category 2: Per Piece Rate Workers {PPP} (approximately 300) Category 3: Floor, In Charge, Quality Control Managers (65)

In October, 2020, according to a tripartite agreement signed between the owners, the workers and the government, the workers were supposed to be paid in three installments starting in early November. However, the owners did not pay the first installment, thus violating the agreement.

The workers restarted their agitation and the owners were forced into discussions once again. But this time, considering the militancy and protracted nature of the workers’ struggle along with the unyielding attitude of the owners, the Labor Minister herself was forced to be present at the meetings.

In early December, an agreement was reached to pay 80 Category 1 workers. However, the GWTUC submitted a more comprehensive list, showing 90 Category 1 workers who had unpaid wages. After negotiations, 90 Category 1 workers, that is workers paid on a monthly basis, were paid their due wages and benefits.

Regarding the Category 2, PPP workers, an inquiry committee was formed to estimate the wages owed by the workers. The committee was lopsided from the very beginning, heavily-weighted in favor of the owners.

Eventually, the owners proposed to pay 50% of what the PPP workers were owed, which they estimated to be Tk 1 million (10 Lakh). But, the owners proposal did not include the basic minimum wage that the PPP workers are supposed to receive each month according to the Bangladesh Labor Act 2006.

After protests from GWTUC and workers’ representatives, the Labor Minister proposed that the amount be increased to Tk 1.5 million (15 Lakh). But according to calculations by the GWTUC, the workers are owed upwards of Tk 3 million (30 Lakh). Still, with the protracted nature of the struggle in mind, the parties involved settled to pay the workers Tk 1.5 million on 22nd December, 2020. However, the GWTUC still plans to go to court to win the Category 2 Dragon workers their entire unpaid dues.

Negotiations about the Category 3 workers however stalled. The owners refused to pay the Category 3 workers what they owed. According to the GWTUC’s estimation, the amount is well upwards of several millions, going back decades. GWTUC plans to forge a legal battle in the labor courts to earn the Category 3 workers their just dues, as according to the Labor Act no workers may be laid off without paying all outstanding dues. However, a small success was earned where the Category 3 workers received their Provident Fund amounts.

International Solidarity

The struggle of the Dragon workers intensified during the dog days of the Pandemic, but this fight of the garment workers and the owners goes back several decades. The Dragon workers have always had to fight to receive their earned wages and benefits. They have toiled in unsafe working conditions for years, culminating in their illegal termination by the owners using the excuse of the Pandemic.

But the workers persevered and eventually, with the overall situation of the garment workers struggle in Bangladesh, the movement of the Dragon workers can be considered a victory for the working class of Bangladesh. Especially outstanding is the unprecedented internationalism and solidarity displayed by trade unions, workers organizations and comrades around the world to stand beside the workers of Dragon Sweater.

In the long history of the garment workers struggle in Bangladesh, this is the first time, where international actions were taken with such unprecedented coordination and solidarity. The Global May Day initiative, Free Workers Union (FAU), Industrial Workers’ of the World, the ICL-CIT, CNT, FOB, FORA, FGWM, SAC and friends from all across the world played their part in achieving the just demands of the Dragon workers.

Likewise, holding international buyers accountable, through constant actions and demonstrations, played a vital role in forcing the local garment owners into the negotiating table.

Accordingly, the fundraiser held and contributed by comrades around the world especially helped Dragon workers keep their resolve strong and provided them much needed food, medical supplies and legal aid (against falsely filed cases) during the struggle. The GWTUC plans to start distributing aid in early January just as the fundraising comes to a culmination.

Overall, we must say that the international solidarity and brotherhood displayed in the struggle will forever remain a milestone in the history of the workers movement in Bangladesh.

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Workers of the World unite!


Mahmood Sadaat Ruhul International Affairs Department Garment Workers’ Trade Union Center (GWTUC)

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