Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


An editorial   titled “Blood Garments” in Economic & Political Weekly (Vol. 48,  May 25, 2013)  says: “The Bangladesh tragedy exposes the callousness of the garment business. The collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza in Bangladesh on 24 April that crushed over 1,127 people, mostly women garment workers, and injured more than 2,500, is now being called the worst industrial accident since the gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. But neither Rana Plaza nor Bhopal should be thought of as “accidents”. In both instances, the reason for the disaster was deliberate and callous neglect for which the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of those who built the structure, as in Rana Plaza, or those who owned and ran the plant, as in Bhopal.” 


What the Editors of the Economic and Political Weekly write is true but they  miss the essence of the problem.  Labour as cheap as possible is a central strategy of capitalism. Capitalism cannot be reformed and cannot be prevented from seeking cheap labor wherever it can get it.  Bangladesh provides not only cheap  but skilled labor.  In the colonial era when British imperialism was seeking markets for its manufactured products and destroying traditional industry in the colonies, Marx wrote (New York Daily Tribune, June 25, 1853) that “the population of Dacca decreased from 150,000  inhabitants to 20,000” from1818 to 1836 as the East India Company destroyed the  handloom industry of Bengal.


Bangladesh like India is a poor country where people routinely risk lives for subsistence.

Yes, all possible caution should be taken so that there is no Rana Plaza or unsafe Union Carbide operations but poor people will continue to suffer and die at the hands of rapacious capitalism for  as long as poverty is the norm.


About undivided India, which included Pakistan and Bangladesh, the British Communist leader Rajani Palme Dutt wrote in 1940 “India is a country of poor people. But it is not a poor country.” The statement holds true for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The “callousness of the garment business” cannot be abolished but that of the governments of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan can and must and social and political pressure must be brought on them to assure that.

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