Bangladesh labor leader rotting in jail

On July 30, tens of thousands of garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, went on a spontaneous strike. They were protesting a new poverty minimum wage set by a government board, and also health and safety and other labor law violations.

Nationwide, the number of strikers reached three million. Out of 160 million people, nearly 2 percent of the entire populace was on strike.

Mostly young women, Bangladesh garment workers are among the lowest paid in the world and work in grueling conditions.

In Dhaka, the protesting workers were joined by local labor leaders and supporters. Police attacked the strikers and injured many in mass arrests. That night the cops raided the homes of local union leaders and their advisors from the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity and Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation. They arrested and jailed Kalpona Akter, Babul Akhter, Aminul Islam and Montu Ghosh.

Thanks to strong international pressure the first three, Akter, Akhter and Islam, were freed after 28 days. But Ghosh, a well-respected labor leader, lawyer and member of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, remains in jail. Also a senior advisor to the Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra federation, he has now been in jail for over 70 days.

The U.S. National Labor Committee, which has a long history of helping to build international labor solidarity with workers in struggle around the world, spearheaded the demand for the release of the imprisoned labor leaders and championed U.S. solidarity efforts with the Bangladesh garment workers.

Now the NLC is calling on American labor to focus efforts on freeing Ghosh. They sent out an alert asking trade unionists and others to cosign a letter to the Bangladeshi Minister of Labor, which will be copied also to that nationals Ambassador to the U.S. You can sign on to the letter here. The letter asks that Ghosh be freed on bail.

To support the effort, help get signers for the letter by sending to your email lists and sharing on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The release of the other three Bangladesh trade union leaders shows the power of this kind of international labor solidarity.

Photo: Bangladesh garment workers protest.


Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.