Last November, 112 workers were killed in a fire at another clothes factory in the same area.
The authorities say about 2,500 people were injured in the Dhaka accident and 2,437 people were rescued. Officials said a total of 1,021 bodies had been recovered from the debris of the fallen factory building in Savar. Almost 650 have so far been identified and handed over to families.
Many bodies were decomposed, but could be identified by mobile phones in their pockets or staff passes, Army Captain Shahnewaz Zakaria said, adding that “most are female garment workers”.
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Reweind back to March 25, 1911 and the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. 146 young female garment workers died in the fire. Sound familiar?
Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below. Sound familiar?
There is a story that the famous anarchist, Emma Goldman, arrived in back in New York by train from a lecture tour while the fire was at it’s height. Not knowing of the fire she was amazed to see a New York policeman standing in the street weeping. When she asked him what was wrong he described the horrors he had witnessed at the Triangle factory.
The Triangle fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.
So all that has changed in the last 100 years is the geographical location and nationality of the victims. In response to the success of trade unions in The West, global capitalism has simply moved the same practices, with the same horrifying results, from the first to the third world.
This gives the lie to the narrative that it is capitalism that has given rise to the increase in living standards, health and wealth of citizens in the First world. The truth is unregulated capitalism leads to the horrors of Dickensian London, the squalor of the Five Points of 19th Century New York, the terrors of the Favelas of Rio today and the death-traps of Bangladeshi sweatshops. At the very least you would have to acknowledge that it is ‘managed capitalism’ in conjunction with strong trade unions and a welfare state that has improved the lot of the 99%. If capitalism had been left to it’s own devices the majority of us would still be living in the filthy slums of the 19th Century and our children would be starting work at 6 or 7 and walking about with no shoes!
There is a fantastic new graphic history of Shelley’s Mask Of Anarchy called… The Mask Of Anarchy by Michael Demson and Summer McClinton. The book contrasts the history of Shelley’s poem and the Peterloo massacre with the story of Pauline Newman one of the founders of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and ‘The New York Joan Of Arc’ as she was described by the New York Times in 1907.
The graphic images of The Triangle Fire in the book chime so strongly with the stories and images of the Bangladeshi tragedies that the book acts as a bridge linking these latest victims of capitalist exploitation directly to the Chartist victims of Peterloo, who were the first workers of the first industrial revolution who suffered under the very same conditions that now exist in Bangladesh.