Wednesday, May 19, 2010

[olympiaworkers] River workers' strike over - deal struck - but strike wave grows May 18 2010

The Bangladeshi river vessel strike ends - but other strikes keep rolling...

Saturday, 16th May 2010, Dhaka; Government Ministers and boat owners have
signed an agreement with union leaders that ends the 8 day strike of river
vessel workers. The deal includes; dropping of all criminal charges
relating to the strike, and release of all those arrested; a revised pay
scale giving wage increases of from 50% to 100%. But it remains unclear
whether this 50% to 100% rise is only the original unsatisfactory pay
offer which triggered the strike - or if it is 50% to 100% on top of that.
The union federation's general secretary Ashikul Islam said;

'We have decided to call off the strike after the government signed
the agreement to meet our demands in phases.'

The devil is in the detail and one can imagine that the time scale for the
implementation of the "demands in phases" may become a point of conflict.
There have been 4 strikes in 17 months over broken pay promises, so this
may be only a temporary truce.

But only the day before reaching agreement the shipping Minister was
threatening mass sackings and had been forced, in the face of strikers
defiance, to twice extend deadlines demanding a return to work. The bosses
were forced to the negotiating table by the strength and effectiveness of
the strike. In a modern economy the interruption of the speed of
circulation of commodities - including passengers - remains a powerful
leverage point for workers.

Leaving the negotiations, the shipping Minister described the strike as;

'a deep conspiracy against the government by a group of workers who
carried out subversive activities.'
He said the strike had hampered economic activities and caused
sufferings to people...

Some inconvenience is inevitable in such events, but can sometimes be
converted into solidarity; regardless, the Minister's comments seem a fair
and informative description of how workers can win strikes.

A rolling strike wave

The boat workers strike coincides with wider struggles breaking out across
the country -

Rangpur, largest city of the north-west; an indefinite bus workers' strike
begins. A union secretary declared;

"We have enforced the strike as our seven days' ultimatum expired on
Saturday. The strike will continue until the demand for wage hike is
met," Mojid said.."

Chittagong, main southern sea port; casual day labourers struck against
being paid less than minimum wage for unloading ship cargoes. They
returned to work on promise of a pay rise. The workers are not unionised
and the strike was self-organised;

Labourer Kashem Ali said, "We did not dare to protest this in fear of
C & F agents [their employers]. Now we are united and we shall
establish our right by any means."

Also in Chittagong; Last week an indefinite strike began in the
ship-breaking industry against tightening of regulations regarding
detoxification certificates for ships. The industry employs tens of
thousands of low paid workers in hundreds of yards and the strike appears
to have been called by the employers and in their interests - rather than
the workers - to pressure the government to abandon the new regulations.
30% of the world's condemned ships are recycled in Bangladesh; labour is
cheap enough here to make it profitable to use the most primitive methods
to scrap ship with hand tools. It is horrible, dangerous work with
terrible environmental consequences. Much of the steel is recycled into
rods for use in construction - reinforcing concrete, steel fixing etc.

Across the country; last week 1.3 million weavers struck, protesting
import restrictions on Indian yarn. Called by the Bangladesh Handloom and
Powerloom Owners' Association, many of whom are home and artisan workshop
loom weavers who supply the garment factories. According to the
Association, about 0.6mlln looms have closed and the remaining 1.4mlln
looms are operating well below production capacity due to the high price
of yarn.

weavers of Pabna, Sirajganj and Narsingdi took to the streets and
blockaded the Dhaka-Sylhet highway in Narsingdi for four hours. Some
5000 weavers blocked the Dhaka-Sylhet highway In Narsingdi from
10:30am to 2pm Thursday bringing traffic to a halt. (

The Bangladeshi handloom industry meets 80% of the total demand for
fabrics. The country's annual yarn demand is estimated at 1mn tonnes, of
which knit sector uses 0.7mn tonnes and the weaving industry the rest.
Local yarn traders have objected to being undercut by cheaper Indian yarn.
The strike ended when the import ban was lifted.

In the garment industry; strikes and demonstrations involving thousands of
workers regularly break out and are spread to neighbouring factories. A
demand for a minimum wage of Taka 5,000[approx. £50/$72/EUR58] is a
generalised demand, though local wage issues and payment of arrears are
often the initial spark.

These struggles are predominantly fired by a constant battle of the poor
against both inflation and, often, terrible working conditions. So far
there has been little co-ordination and linkage between these struggles
beyond their respective industries; but, as they proliferate, this may (or
not) impose itself as a logical necessity.

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