Bangladesh tragedy reveals the realities of capitalism



MellaneoussquareWhile we cower and agree to give up more of our hard-earned rights as citizens, the real bogey man the real terror of our lives gets little notice, and that is the system of economic exploitation called capitalism. I realize for a lot of folks living in the U.S. this is no real concern because they live off the cream of this exploitation. But to those who are victimized by its demands for low wages and little protection it’s a different story, especially in the Third World.

The death toll as the result of a garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh has reached 800 — that’s right, 800. And the story gets worse.

Not only has it been revealed that the factory building had been inspected only days before and found dangerous cracks had developed in the walls and the owners were encouraged to shut it down. Not only did they keep the factory open but the owner of the factory, Mohammed Sohel Rana, who had previously added three floors to the eight-story building, encouraged workers to return to work in the building. Police had ordered the building to be evacuated but factory managers told workers it was safe and encouraged them to go back inside and the building collapsed only hours later.

Now this is a tragedy that gets sadder every day, yet there has been miniscule coverage by the U.S. media. There has been no prayers offered or monies donated to these poor Bangladesh workers who, for their troubles, receive an average of $38 a month. And that’s not for a normal U.S. work day; that’s for a long Bangladesh work day.

In return for their cheap labor we in the so called First World get to enjoy cheaper clothes as been noted by others. But even more beneficiary from the cheap labor and cheap clothes are the enormous profits reaped by the clothing industry.

In the past the U.S. and European manufacturers used to go to Third World countries, construct the buildings, provide the machinery and simply make a killing off of underpaying the workforce. And they would respond to critics who questioned the slave wages by saying they are better off than they were before we got there; our wages fit into their standard of living.

Now the manufacturers figured out how to make even more money by subcontracting the work, so they no longer have to invest in buildings or machinery. Life is good. But now the subcontractor has to find ways to squeeze on his end so he can make maximum profits.

So he skimps on even the building and of course he holds wages down. And the government that seeks to use its power to exploit the workers as well and make as much money from the industry works with the greedy factory owners to hold workers down by suppressing dissent in the form of worker-organizing drives. Sometimes they go as far as killing union organizing.

One of the main organizers of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity was found dead, and according to those who saw his body it was clear he had been tortured. In this system those who seek to get more workers are made dead by the allies of capitalism.

Against this backdrop of exploitation blogger Matt Yglesias in writing about this tragedy in an editorial entitled, “Different places have different safety rules and that’s Ok,” said “Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but its entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different — and indeed, lower — workplace safety standards than the United States.” Incredibly he wrote this as bodies were still being pulled from the rubble.

Why in the world would anyone think that it’s okay for one group of human beings to have a lower safety standard than another? The remark and the editorial struck me as extremely callous, but then I realized he is not alone, this is what we really believe. We really think that as Americans we are entitled to more, even if that means others have less.

Yglesias pours it on. He actually wrote — again the disaster was still unfolding — “The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine.” But Matt, 800 people just died in an accident because the rules of building safety were not adhered to, and because corruption in that country motivated by profit allowed it happen.

And the writer does not let up. He continues his arrogant cold-hearted treatise with even more incredible statements. He states that, “Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans…. Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.”

No doubt Yglesias is a good example of just how blind and unaware most Americans are of how things really work. The Bangladeshi workers didn’t make a choice to work for slave wages or to work in what, for all practical purposes, are sweat shops. They were forced in by their need to feed themselves and it is their government, while trying to make as much money as they can, that has instituted these so called “different choices.”

And did he really say immiserating was my first thought when I read this? In other words this young American fat cat thinks that better safety rules would make the Bangladesh’s workers “miserable” or “impoverish” them.

He concludes his article by unbelievably saying that, “the current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine. American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten much richer.”

Clearly this guy is either cold hearted or out to lunch. By any stretch of the imagination the system is not working fine in the Third World. In Bangladesh workers have suffered from not just this building collapse, but factory fires as well, as a result of the owner’s disregard for the safety of the workers.

Unfortunately, this writer voiced what a lot of folks believe. But it’s not true that this system of exploitation and oppression is working for working classes in the Third World or in our local world. The only folks benefiting are those who run the system.


Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mreeves@spokes


To read more stories by Mel Reeves click HERE