Awami League concerned about garment worker agitation

Garment workers demonstrate at Mirpur-11. Thursday morning
Shuvro Kanti Das

Amid the hartal (general strike) of BNP and the other opposition parties, Awami League is concerned about the workers of the garment sectors taking to the streets. Most of the party leaders feel that there is local and foreign conspiracy behind this. They feel that BNP and Jamaat and already entered the garment worker movement and are using it to their advantage.

Under these circumstances, the ruling Awami League policymakers are feeling pressure to settle the garment worker wages issue as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Awami League party sources say, last Monday Awami League members of parliament of Dhaka and adjacent areas held a joint meeting at the party's central office in Bangabandhu Avenue. At the end of the meeting, Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader gave certain directives to the members of parliament of areas where there are readymade garment factories.

These directives include talking to the garment workers and informing them that the government will announce a new pay scale in November. And this will come into effect in December. The members of parliament were told to convince the workers to keep confidence in the government because it was during the rule of this government that the wages of the garment workers was increased the most.

The Awami League sources said that similar directives were given to local leaders of Awami League and its affiliated organisations as well as local councillors and local government representatives. From the centre instructions had been issued to explain matters to the workers and keep them away from any movement. However, the situation deteriorated when some tried to suppress the movement through threats, attacks and display of power.

When garment workers were demonstrating in Pallabi of Mirpur in Dhaka, local leaders and activists of Awami League and its associate organisations dispersed them. One of the Jubo League leaders, Awlad Hossain alias Lakku was seen with a firearm in hand. This picture appeared in the media too. The garment workers were attacked with sticks too. The workers of the areas also took to the streets yesterday, Wednesday.

Calm and careful treatment

On condition of anonymity, a central leader of Awai League told Prothom Alo, if the garment workers are treated in the same way as the leaders and activists of political parties like BNP and Jamaat, it will backfire. The garment sector and its workers are sensitive. They must be treated carefully and calmed down.

Speaking to several members of parliament  of Dhaka and adjacent areas, it was learnt that they have already started contacting garment workers as soon as they received the instructions. Local Awami League leaders and ward councillors have spoken to them. Meetings have been held with the owners and senior management of the factories. The problem is that it is difficult to determine who is leading the agitating garment workers. Most of them were simply instigated by rumours.

It will also be difficult to ignore the demands of the workers. The prices of essentials have shot up abnormally high. It has become a challenge for the government to satisfy all sides

The member of parliament of the constituency comprising Gazipur city and Kaliakoir is minister for liberation war affairs AK Mozammel Haque. He told Prothom Alo, that he carried out the instructions in the area. Things are calm in his constituency. He said, many of the garment workers took to the streets just hearing some rumours. After they were explained matters, the situation is normal now.

Member of parliament from Uttara, Habib Hasan, said the same. He is the joint general secretary of Dhaka city north Awami League. He said, BNP-Jamaat will want to take advantage of the situation, using the garment workers, They will not allow that to happen.

AL to hold joint meeting

Another joint meeting has been called today, Thursday, at the Awami League central office. Central leaders will hold the meeting with leaders of Dhaka city Awami League, Dhaka district Awami League and affiliated organsations. Members of parliament and other people's representatives will join too.

Awami League party sources say the agenda of the meeting will include tackling the hartal and blockades of the opposition including BNP and Jamaat, fixing the next programmes, and ensuring success of the prime minister's rally on Saturday for inauguration of the metro-rail Agargaon-Motijheel route. The party leaders and people's representatives will also be given directives regarding the garment workers' movement.

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Awami League policymaker sources say, the garment factory workers often agitate for wages in November-December. But such a strong movement hasn't been marked in recent years. Also there is a conspiracy behind the agitation gaining momentum even after assurance from the government and the factory owners. BNP and Jamaat will continue with hartals, blockades, sieges and various 'aggressive', 'destructive' programmes up until the election. There is fear that the situation will grow complex if the workers movement gets added to their movement. That is why the matter must be resolved before the election schedule is announced.

Sources also say that the government always takes the ability of the factory owners into consideration when taking decisions about the wages and allowances of the garment workers. Their opinions are given due importance. But this time the owners are unwilling to given in to the minimum wage demand as made by the workers.

It will also be difficult to ignore the demands of the workers. The prices of essentials have shot up abnormally high. It has become a challenge for the government to satisfy all sides. But it will try to reach a solution soon. After all, there is no alternative for Awami League but to hold the national parliament polls in time and smoothly as possible.

Awami League's organising secretary in charge of Dhaka division, Mirza Azam, told Prothom Alo that the government is working on meeting the garment workers' demands. But there is local and foreign conspiracy behind this movement. The government has information that BNP and Jamaat are trying to take advantage of the situation. The government and Awami League are therefore remaining on alert about this matter.

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