Since we published our message in solidarity with workers of Dragon Sweater Factory -Bangladesh fighting off dismissals and unpaid wages, our Asia working group has received a complaint letter from the company management. It is reproduced below, together with a reply from GWTUC, the union of garment workers. They both speak by themselves.
Obviously, the company managers have not taken the time to read our statutes or our online material. For some bizarre reason, they seem to think that we are a neutral arbitration body that will lend an ear to business owners’ claims. They are very much mistaken. ICL, the International Confederation of Labour, is an instrument by and for the global working class to promote solidarity across the borders and to support workers’ struggles all over the world. The International brings together anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary unions and will always stand by the workers in their fight against capitalist exploitation. Therefore, we state again our demand to reinstate the dismissed workers and to pay their salaries and we encourage our sections and contacts to take action to support this demand. The struggle continues (https://globalmayday.net/2020/07/01/garments-workers-rally-in-dhaka/), so does our support and solidarity.
The managers have spent some substantial time and effort in writing to us. These would be better used in engaging with GWTUC and addressing workers’ concerns and demands. ICL’s sections and contacts will continue taking action until GWTUC informs us that the conflict has come to a conclusion that they are happy with. Meanwhile, if the company owners are concerned about the factory’s reputation being tarnished, as it is the case, and they want to prevent further disrepute, there’s a very simple solution at their disposal: answer workers’ demands.
Another word of caution: reading between the lines in the letter, it seems obvious that the managers are laying the ground to accuse the workers of unpatriotic behaviour and calling for more repressive measures to be used against them. Let this be a warning against such methods. This is a red line that would only be crossed at the company’s expense. From now on, we will consider the company managers liable for any repressive action that the state may take against the protesting workers and this will be enough for Dragon Sweater to be branded as a union busting company before the commercial brands that it works for, another stain that it will find very difficult to shake off.
Keep the struggle up, stay strong, in solidarity,
ICL’s Asia Working Group
Reply letter from GWTUC
It has come to our attention that the management of Dragon Group has forwarded a letter to Global May Day and ICL in response to the ongoing movement of the Dragon Sweaters workers and the GWTUC call for solidarity in support of the movement. We have listed our responses point by point:
1. Dragon Group has claimed that their factory only employs 800 workers.
Here, Dragon Group has used a very generous interpretation, to the owners, of what constitutes ’employment.’ Their claim, for the umpteenth time, exposes the lens of sheer disposability through which employers view workers and shines a light on the precariousness of the working class under capitalism.
In fact, workers at Dragon Sweaters are divided into two groups:
- ‘Per piece rate’ manual workers, who are paid according to the number of units of clothing they produce. Dragon Sweaters employs more than 4,000 of these workers.
- ‘Fixed salary workers,’ including sewing operators, menders, finishers, and quality control. Dragon Sweaters employs around 1,200 of these workers.
Dragon Group in their response seems to have only counted the latter salaried workers, and even then under reported the numbers. That Dragon Group would choose to disregard the manual ‘per piece’ workers displays how devalued manual feminized labor is. ‘Per piece’ workers are supposed to receive a basic income for the 4-5 months where buying orders are not coming in and thus they are not producing units, but this basic income has gone unpaid by Dragon Group. We stand by our numbers and believe Dragon Group’s underreporting is another attempt, in a long line, to evade responsibility.
2. Dragon Group claims that allegations of unpaid wages and union-busting are baseless.
The truth is Dragon Group has taken no responsibility for paying the workers during the COVID 19 pandemic. The government has pushed through a tk 5,000 crore stimulus package for the payment of workers’ wages for the months of April, May and June. Even so, those workers that have (many have not) received money have had their wages slashed to 60 percent and their Eid bonuses slashed by half. As we have already established, Dragon Group has a suspect definition of who even constitutes a worker in the calculation of their profits, so this claim is anything but baseless.
As to the union-busting, their track record is a terrifying testament to the lengths bosses will go to prevent workers’ rights to free association.
The GWTUC’s attempts to form a union at Dragon have been quashed on no less than three separate occasions. Workers attempting to form unions have been fired, including union presidents Nazmul and Shahidul, and Secretary Babul. More than 200 legal cases are also currently pending against workers who attempted to organize a union. As to our committees at Dragon, these are organizational committees of the GWTUC composed of Dragon workers, not registered trade unions.
3. Dragon Group’s third claim of the provident fund not being an ‘issue’ is as laughable as it is confusing. As we already stated, workers are not being paid their full salaries. Even if they were, would that not still entitle them to their owed provident funds, service pay and other benefits? The wages of an RMG worker in Bangladesh are among the lowest in the world. This 5 million strong work force serves as cheap labor for the world’s top brands and fashion runways. Even as the low wages are unjustifiable, garment workers depend on every meagre amount for their livelihoods. Are we really expected to believe that Dragon Group does not see the issue in notpaying workers their owed benefits? Are workers not entitled to their benefits because a global pandemic has rendered all public work a threat to their lives?
4. Dragon Group claims that the protests are limited to 30-40 workers and portrays the movement as stemming from ‘confusion’. There is no confusion, except for the justified question of why workers are being illegally laid off without their full wages and benefits. In regard to the number of protesters, does anyone really believe that the workers of Dragon Sweaters could have laid siege to the Bangladesh Labor Ministry on 11th June with a handful of workers? The truth, accounted in major news publications, is that the protests are supported by the whole spectrum of outraged Dragon workers deprived of their wages and dignity by employers who are using a worldwide pandemic of suffering and death to lay off thousands and relocate their factory 150 km away, all in the pursuit of profit.
Neither are the protests by any means isolated to Dragon. Rather, Dragon workers have joined arms with thousands of workers from other factories to protest the BGMEA and the government’s disregard for workers. The most recent example of this assembly of workers’ power was on 29th June, when a massive rally by the GWTUC attempted to lay siege to the Prime Ministers’ office.
As for the ‘goodwill’ of the national police. What goodwill does a police force that routinely brutalizes, suppresses, silences, disappears and extrajudicially murders it’s citizens really have?
Lastly, it is an insult to the thousands of workers who died, and millions more who continue to toil and agitate to call the BGMEA respectable. The BGMEA’s ‘hard earned reputation’ includes such instances of industrial murder as Rana Plaza, Tazreen, Tung Hai, and Matrix.
5. Relations between bosses and workers cannot in the best of times be called amiable. It is always an exercise on the bosses part of degradation and exploitation of the worker. So it follows that Dragon Group’s insinuation of friendly relations between bosses and workers is a pipe dream. One need only ask Ramesha apa, who had worked for Dragon for over two decades, labored for years, without vacation, everyday from 8 to 10 and was recently terminated without her owed benefits, if she ever felt the bosses ‘enhanced her privileges’ in any way. The testimonies of thousands of other workers, past and present, will no doubt attest to the same lack of humanity.
The GWTUC has never been and will never be a neutral organization. We unabashedly agitate for redistributing all socio-economic power to workers.
Nothing, not the designer clothes on the bosses’ back, nor their stories of offices and factories, nor their opulent villas here or in tax havens would be built without the hammer and the needle, the dexterity and the intellect of the worker. We do not have to doctor the facts. We do not need to make tall claims. The reality of the workers’ struggle is more often too brutal and unjust for the written word or oration to contain.
Dragon Group in its letter called Bangladesh a responsible and mature democracy: ‘a land of law.’ There is a law that governs this land, but it is not of the courts, never mind the people. It is the law of the rich and privileged, indolent and able-bodied, reviving from scripture, secular or religious, reigning over workers debased and desposed, women raped and shamed, queer folks hidden and killed, protestors maimed and bloodied, writers silenced and jailed. If in the words of Dragon Group, a member of this cartel of wickedness, we are anti-national. Our only response is that workers have no nation, no borders. Our allegiance is only to each other.
Workers’ of the World Unite.
Mahmood Sadaat Ruhul,
International Affairs Department
Garments Workers’ Trade Union Center
Letter from the management of Dragon Group
In recent times attention has been brought to a dubious publication with malicious intent on the basis of a travesty of facts. A-infos recent publication on Dragon Sweaters factory (Bangladesh) seems to be based upon a malevolent and anti-national propaganda piece of letter/write-up by the GWTUC, Bangladesh.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy has plunged and so has the market for Ready-Made-Garments. The nature of RMG in Bangladesh heavily relies on the global economies; hence the COVID-19 brought the RMG trade in Bangladesh and in other countries to a standstill. Accordingly, as a responsible and matured democracy the Government of Bangladesh assisted the exporters with a soft-loan to pay the workers’ wages during the pandemic. To make the process transparent and hassle-free the payments were sent directly to the workers MFS and/or Bank accounts. This resulted in no unnecessary gathering of people during the pandemics havoc and simplified transactions. However, certain delays followed in execution of the payment transmissions as many workers did not have the required MFS or Bank accounts, as well as scheduled banks were overwhelmed by the enormous tasks of transferring salaries to over 4 million workers. While such delays only happened during April (the first month of Government assistance for wages) no such delays occurred for the salary of May. All the 800 workers’ wages have been duly paid up till May 2020, and will be paid for June accordingly.
Misleading statements in the article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, are:
- The article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, points out there are 6000 workers working in Dragon Sweaters factory in Dhaka, which is far from the reality. In reality Dragon Sweaters factory in Dhaka has close to 800 workers. The numbers pointed out in GWTUC’s article/letter/write-up appears to be of pure fiction and extreme over-stretching of readily available data.
- Claims about Dragon Sweaters history of “not paying workers’ wages, union busting’ is baseless. All the workers’ wages have been paid to the full extent of the labor law of the country up until May 2020. While claims of union busting activities are self-contradicting as the GWTUC rightly claimed to have had “factory level committees at Dragon Sweaters for a number of years now”.
- The matter of provident fund is not an issue as the workers are still getting their monthly salary without risking their lives during the COVID 19 pandemic, as advised and supported by the Government of Bangladesh. They have been paid till May 2020, and will receive salary for June 2020 when it is due.
- There have been some forms of protests by 30-40 workers not thousands as mentioned by the article/letter/write-up by GWTUC. These protests were directly a result of confusion due to the delay in receiving the salary. While such protests were peaceful there has been no activity by the law enforcement agencies to “intimidation and harassment” towards any protestors of Dragon
Sweaters factory. Such allegations are malicious and intended towards destroying the goodwill of the Nations’ Police force, hard-earned reputation of Bangladesh Garments industries and Bangladesh itself.
- Never have the management/owners of Dragon Sweater used any scare tactics against anyone, let alone its own work-force. Dragon Sweater has been on the forefront in enhancing the workers privileges for years, many of its old and current workers have been given opportunity to open their own operation with financial and technical assistance provided to become employers themselves. These allegations are baseless, and defamatory in nature.
It should be noted that the said article has eroded any semblance credibility on the part of GWTUC as a neutral, and fair organization intending on the wellbeing of the workers, rather exposes their malicious intent on ruining an industry that has for decades elevated millions of people out of poverty. The fact that an organization as GWTUC, has failed to verify their tall claims regarding the number of workers at Dragon Sweaters factory, the wages due, number of protestors, and so on. It also contained malicious and defamatory statements against the Law Enforcement agency of Bangladesh, against the management/owners of the factory and painting an artificially negative picture of our small but great nation. The article/letter/write-up by GWTUC, aims to malign and defame this particular industry and Bangladesh by using such blatant misinformation arbitrarily. Bangladesh is a land of Law, and governed by able leadership that executes the fullest extent of the law on behalf of all its citizens without discrimination. Any and all rising disputes between management and workers have always and will continue to be resolved by the law of the land.
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