Threads of resistance

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Low-paid workers in the Global South are often dismissed as powerless. But Bangladeshi garment workers are leading a fightback.

Smoke is rising from the highways that run to and from the export-processing zones that surround the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka. Thousands of the most downtrodden workers in the world are involved in a pitched battle with sweatshop owners and the government that stands behind them.

Relief mission?

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Bangladesh was struck by a major cyclone on 15 November. Cyclone Sidr was larger than the entire country.

United Nations assessments suggest 2.2 million people in need of immediate life-saving relief. Some 3,500 are known to have died, with 40,000 injured and around 1,000 missing. Some 8.5 million homes have been destroyed, and nearly three million livestock killed. And 6,000 square kilometres of coastal mangrove forest, which offered limited protection against such extreme weather conditions, have been lost - all this in a country ranked 139th out of 175 on the 2003 Human Development Index.

Bangladesh: Sweatshop Workers Turn Up the Heat


As I write, the streets of Dhaka, the capital city, are filled with protesters fighting the police. The air is thick with the acrid smell of tear gas and the city is paralysed by a general strike.

Bangladesh's "caretaker" government is due to conduct elections on 22 January but now the whole process looks shaky. The main opposition party, the Awami League (AL), has put together an alliance of many other parties, including those of the left, to boycott the election.

The suspicion of those who have joined the boycott is that the election will be manipulated by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the ruling centre-right party. The call to resist the one-sided election has the possibility of drawing on an increasingly combative working class.

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