The disaster at Rana Plaza was no accident and nor will the next building collapse or fire be.
Hundreds of overwhelmingly women seamstresses died under piles of rubble and machinery, entwined with the ready-made garments they sewed. They were killed by ruthless profiteering.
Workers died for pay of less than £24 a month, having been forced back into a dangerously cracked building by the threat of losing their jobs–and the lathi sticks of the company police.
Their murderers are faceless but well known.
They are the sweatshop owners and contractors, government officials and ministers – and the multinational vultures that have swooped on the poor of Bangladesh.
Rana Plaza bosses packed a thousand workers into a confined space and installed massive generators on four floors. These back-up power supplies were to ensure that even when electricity to the factories was cut off—as is often the case—production would not be halted.
There was a power cut just before the collapse. All four generators started simultaneously with a huge juddering vibration. The already cracked building could not withstand the jolt.
Nearby banks and other businesses had been evacuated the previous day—as soon as the cracks appeared. But the garment factory bosses could think only of their production schedules and the fines the multinationals would impose on them for late delivery.
The rest is terrible history.
After each disaster the criminals behind it rush to insist they will never allow anything similar to happen again. The garment factory owners’ organisations, BGMEA and BKMEA, make promises about the future standard of their sweatshops.
But it is all in vain. Time passes and the owners make no changes.
When workers and the unions take to the streets, as they are doing now, the government is quick to insist that they are part of a “foreign conspiracy” against Bangladesh. Union activists are sacked and their organisations remain unrecognised.
The multinationals also plead that this time they will learn the lessons. But they are two-faced liars.
They are the ones who constantly drive down the prices they pay for ready-made garments, and they are the ones who oppose every advance in the pay and conditions of workers.
During the massive protests of 2011, when the government pretended to raise the level of the minimum wage in response to a wave of militant strikes, it was the multinational buyers who came out openly to oppose any increase.
They threaten to move their production abroad if costs rise. But we know they will never do this.
The World Bank estimates that productivity in many factories here is on a par with China but wages are about a fifth of those in China’s average.
How could the big firms move on when, in addition to our adult workers toiling for a pittance, we have around 7 million children forced by hardship to sew, sweep and bundle at their behest?
It is heartening to hear that workers in the West have heard our cries and are also on the streets demanding action.
You should insist that the multinationals pay higher prices for the garments they buy. How can they get away with paying a few pence for an item they sell for many pounds? The extra should be given to the workers.
But we also want to force the firms to recognise our trade unions. The only way to put a stop these needless deaths for profit is for workers of all countries to unite.