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Politics behind garment workers agitation in Bangladesh

Last updated on September 24, 2010

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia sees the unrest in ready garment sector as a sabotage of Bangladesh economy by a foreign country, a euphemism for India.But government views the trouble as the handiwork of ‘foreigners’ who are on a tourist visa and are involved with trade unions and NGOs. as the part of a plan to destabilise the Hasina government

Workers of Ready Garment Factories in Dhaka are on a war path from July 29 for pay hike; they have rejected the pay revision offered. The workers have taken to the streets, blocked roads, vandalised banks and shopping malls and set on fire a number of vehicles at Tejgaon and several other industrial clusters. More than 100 garment workers and 20 cops have been injured as the workers clashed with the police during demonstrations on EPZ-Abdullahpur road, Dhaka-Narayanganj Link Road, Katherpool, Ashulia, Narayanganj and several other places.

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia sees the unrest in ready garment sector as a sabotage of Bangladesh economy by a foreign country, a euphemism for India. Their point is two-fold; one India wants to capture the global share of Bangladesh, second India wants to ruin Bangladesh economy since ready garments are its main foreign exchange earner. Khaleda Zia herself made the charge. So did her party’s Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossen amidst clear indications that frustrated garment workers are being provoked for a political end.

Violent agitation by garment workers has become almost a regular phenomenon. Labour unrest in garment sector has been brewing over work conditions, wage disputes and payment problems. Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (student front of BNP), Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal (youth front of BNP) and Islami Chhatra Shibir (student front of Jamaat-e-Islami) are said to be provoking the disgruntled workers from time to time..
BNP Standing Committee member and MP Salauddin Qader Chowdhury’s (SQC) family owns a garment factory in a Dhaka suburb. SQC is an influential BNP leader and is believed to be a long standing ISI agent of influence in Bangladesh. Most of the businessmen involved in the garment industry have some or the other Pak connection.

The business circles are aware of SQC’s multiple ISI – criminal nexus, but they are so intimidated by his strength that they prefer to keep their mouth shut. He is known to patronize large armed cadres and gangsters. As the biggies of the BNP-Jamaat Alliance are keeping low after the poll reverses, SQC has been leading the opposition charge against Prime Minister Hasina, and has even vowed to bring down the Awami League led government before completion of its term.

There is one reason for the pronounced anti-Hasina resolve of Salauddin Qader Chowdhury. The government is going ahead with its plans to put on trial the war criminals – a reference to the perpetrators of crimes during the liberation war in 1971 and to those who had collaborated with the Pakistani forces. It has already set the ball rolling with the establishment of tribunals. SQC figures prominently on the war criminals list, along with the entire top brass of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Prime Minister Hasina is determined to complete the trials before her five-year term ends in another three years. She has already implemented the court judgment in respect of the Mujib killers who had for long been enjoying BNP- Jamaat protection. Now the tables have turned and these elements have become apprehensive that the noose would soon tighten around their neck for their role during the liberation war in 1971.

Besides BNP leaders like SQC, the Hasina plan affects Pakistan also. That is because the names of some senior Pakistan army officers figure in the preliminary list of war criminals compiled by the freedom fighters. The war crimes case is likely to come up in International Criminal Court. Pakistan will have to face harassment and ignominy in such an event. The best way to avert that situation is to scuttle the war crimes trial by destabilizing the Hasina government at any cost. Mutiny in the BDR was the first attempt pull down the government. It failed. And it only steeled Hasina resolve to go ahead with the war crimes tribunal.

Violent agitation in the garment sector, which is the biggest forex earner for the country, has coincided with the process initiated to try four Jamaat leaders. Vested interests are swung into action to run down the Hasina government and to drub it as the Fifth Columnist working for India.

Simultaneously, the so-called Islamic nationalist forces in the country have embarked upon a meticulously worked out plan to create large scale lawlessness and anarchy with the objective of subverting the upcoming trial of anti-liberation forces / Pak collaborators of 1971. These forces, which are represented by BNP and Jamaat, advocate a strong Islamic nationalist identity for the country with a pronounced pro-Pak tilt and project India as preying on Bangladesh with ill motives. Put differently, the main objective of these sections is whipping up the bogey of Islam as a tool to capture state power.

Dhaka is acutely aware of the plots and the sub-plots. This much is clear from the decisions announced after a cabinet decision on Monday, Aug 2.

The Daily Star reported: ‘The cabinet has expressed concern over the recent labour unrest in the garment sector. Many foreign nationals with tourist visa have been involved with trade unions and are causing unrest in the sector for the interests of their nations, the meeting was told. It will be strictly overseen from now on so that no foreign national can come to Bangladesh with tourist visa to get involved with trade unions. If they want to come here for this purpose, they must get visas under a special category from the Bangladesh government, a senior minister said wishing anonymity. The government has a list of foreign nationals, who came to Bangladesh with tourist visa and got involved with trade unions with the help of many NGOs, said sources close to the meeting. Many of them are staying in Bangladesh although their visas have already expired, added the sources’. (courtesy POREG)


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