Rana Plaza murders will not be forgotten

Issue 
Melbourne rally to mark the Rana rallies.

The Rana Plaza murders will not be forgotten: this was the message of a small but spirited rally on April 13 in Melbourne's Bourke Street Mall.

Organised by the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) and other labour activists, the rally commemorated the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in which 1134 Bangladeshi sweatshop workers lost their lives and 2500 others were injured.

The Rana Plaza murders will not be forgotten: this was the message of a small but spirited rally on April 13 in Melbourne's Bourke Street Mall.

Organised by the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union (TCFUA) and other labour activists, the rally commemorated the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in which 1134 Bangladeshi sweatshop workers lost their lives and 2500 others were injured.

The disaster, insisted Michele O'Neil, the Victorian secretary of the TCFUA, was “entirely preventable” and was not a tragedy, but murder. The Many Moons theatre ensemble also performed a moving play based on the testimony of survivors and rescuers on that terrible day.

The day before the collapse, large cracks appeared in the building's structural members. Engineers evacuated the building and recommended that it remain closed. Shops and a bank on the ground floor obeyed the advice, but the owners of the garment factory spread across the upper floors insisted their workers return to work, and even forcibly compelled some to do so.

The huge numbers of workers crammed into the building contributed to massive overloading and when generators illegally installed on the top floor started up, the building collapsed like the proverbial pack of cards. Thousands of workers, most of them women and girls, were buried in the rubble.

The Many Moons actors made their voices come alive for us and moved many to tears. There was the 14-year-old girl whose hand was trapped beneath a heavy beam and the doctor who had to amputate it before moving on to take off both legs of another worker buried under the debris.

The choice of venue for the Melbourne rally — the Bourke Street Mall — was significant, crammed as it was with shoppers hunting for bargains in the big clothing stores lining the street. As the Many Moons performers brought home, those bargains are only available because the workers who make them toil for barely subsistence wages in foul sweatshops lacking the decencies of life and adequate health and safety provisions.

This T-shirt made in Bangladesh retails in Bourke Street for, say $10. The manufacturer is paid perhaps $2, from which he must buy cotton and pay shipping costs. The individual worker is paid $2 a day for a 10 to 12-hour working day, producing 250 T-shirts per hour. The retailers in Australia thus make enormous profits. As is less well-known, the Australian government takes its cut in sales tax, while grudgingly doling out a pittance to poor countries as “foreign aid”.

While there have been some improvements to health and safety following the Rana Plaza murders, the garment and footwear industry still depends on the super-exploitation of workers in Bangladesh and other countries of the Global South.

Nevertheless, some Australian retailers are so greedy that they have refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety negotiated by unions and NGOs. The worst culprit is the Just Group, which is owned by Melbourne billionaire Solomon Lew through Premier Investments. Its brands include Best and Less, Just Jeans, Portmans, Jay Jays, Dotti, Peter Alexander, Jacqui-E and Smiggle.

This is the ugly face of 21st century imperialism.

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