Almost 400 people, three of whom were pregnant women, were killed and 2500 hundred horrible injured and maimed when a sweatshop used to produce the material effluvia required to keep the “1st World” from falling behind in the great and frenzied arms race known as capitalism. 1000 people are still missing in the rubble of an illegally built and badly maintained structure that existed, along with thousands of others just like it across the “3rd World”, to cater to the criminally the low prices expected by wealthy Western consumers for their useless plastic possessions and digital time-wasters. Thousands of children, at least those not working in the factory themselves and therefore buried in the rubble or dead, will now have to live, or more likely starve, without mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, brothers and grandmothers. And why is this? So that you, and I, can be overcharged for an iPhone. In this aspect we as guilty, morally if not legally, as the those responsible for the tragedy. Maybe we can all ask Siri how many Bangladeshi lives a phone is worth? Maybe there is an app for that as well. The “miracle” of Steve Jobs lives on.
According to most sources the owners of the building willfully and deliberately cut corners and ignored even the bare-bones laws and regulations governing the operation of factories and workplaces. They were presumably richly rewarded for his perverse business practices with high profits and praise from the multinational corporations who they serve so faithfully. The workers are locked into their factories, forced to work two or three shifts, denied healthcare and water and food and even beaten. For this they are paid as little as 20 cents (US) a day, a dollar if they are lucky. This is often docked and withheld from them for no reason and workers are often forced to sleep in the factory. This is slavery. There is no other word for it. To impose a mode of making a “living” that in fact degrades and consumes human life as though it were fossil fuel is slavery, made even more insidious for the fact that those involved are paid a pittance and told they are improving their station. The largesse of the first world, the very reason you, I and almost everyone we know is as comfortable as we are is because 3 billion people are used as fuel. A quote from socialist activist Rose Schneiderman, said in response to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in the New York Garment district, comes to mind
The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of us for one job, it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death.
The events in Bangladesh (I refuse to call them a tragedy because a tragedy is an isolated devastating event…what happened in Bangladesh is business as usual for most of the world’s companies) have pushed the beleaguered and often ignored poor and working classes of Bangladesh into open revolt against the abuse of their comrades and family members. Hundreds of thousands if not millions have taken to the street to demand the arrest and imprisonment of the factory owners and managers. Many are calling for the death penalty. It is rare that this sort of mass civic reaction against capitalist factory abuses in a “3rd World” nation have garnered this much international and even media attention. Perhaps this is why the government has taken steps to imprison the owners and bring them up on charges. They may even allow for the confiscation of the assets of those involved in the incident. Presumably the powers that be hope that this pittance will satisfy the people’s need for justice and radical reform to the economic foundations of most of the “3rd World”.
We live in a world where a corporate enterprise is considered a failure if it it makes $3 billion a fiscal year instead of the expected $3.3 billion. To shave off just enough cost to calm the unyielding greed of the shareholders the lives and fortunes of millions of people in dozens of nations. This May Day there is a real fight brewing in Bangladesh that is spreading throughout the world; fast food workers in Chicago walked out of work and tens of thousands are striking against government austerity in Europe. This mood of frustration is germinating into revolutionary action, it can be felt, smelled, in the spring air. Bangladesh is not a beginning or an end it a point on a cycle that continues on and on without abatement and without any regard for the lives and desires of the human beings turned into chattel. It is not a force of nature so much as the disgusting potential of human imperfection made real. Capitalism is the universal id of the collective human experience; it justifies exploitation, imperialism, murder and ravenous greed by making these sins into virtues and these virtues into the basis of contemporary human societies, governments and laws. The world is enslaved and told that by working harder and harder they will be made free, but this freedom is only the ability to exploit and consume. The dead of Bangladesh wanted only one form of freedom: the freedom to live as human beings. Even this was denied them in the name of profit.
The first May Day heralded the anniversary of the slaughter and judicial murder of workers and activists in Chicago during and after the Haymarket protests. This proved to be the birth of the modern labor movement and led to many of the reforms and right the “1st World” now takes for granted and denies their comrades in the “3rd World”. Anarchist and labor activist Voltairine de Cleyre refused to stand by and watch the exploitation of her fellow human beings. Her words on the anniversary of the Haymarket episode haunt me and should haunt the rest of the world
The paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. The crying-out demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence.
I salute the people and the workers of Bangladesh and their fight for dignity and freedom. Workers of the world must unite behind their cause. They are us. We are them. There is no difference. Their dead are our dead. Their pain is our pain. Their rights are our rights. We are one. I hold this truth to be self-evident and so should you.