Solidarity with Bangladeshi Workers

The Dragon Sweater Group is a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s garment industry, producing about $4.5 billion in revenue per year from exports. The organization is headed by Mostafa Golam Quddus, a former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and an important figure in establishing the country’s industrialised clothing industry. You might not know a lot about this company but if you’ve ever bought clothes from Zara, Primark, H&M or even Asda you might have a jumper made in one of the companies factores in your house right now. Lately, the Dragon Sweater Group has come under fire for their treatment of Bangladeshi garment workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, the factory closed down as part of precautions over the pandemic, and it was at this point that a large part of the company’s employees were dismissed; the company claims only 140 workers did not return to work and that everyone was given their proper wages while the factory was closed over. However, the Daily Star- an English-Bangladeshi newspaper claims the number is between 500 and 600, with the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre and the Industrial Workers of the World claiming the number of employees that were dismissed and had their wages withheld being ten times that figure, at 6000

This unfair, and technically illegal dismissal of such a large portion of their workforce has naturally caused some backlash towards the company; but with management unwilling to even admit to an agreed upon figure of dismissed workers- never mind admitting wrong-doing- negotiations drew to a halt over reinstatement of the workers and lost wages. In response, the union organised protests, including occupying the factory owners’ home and a hunger strike at the Prime Minister’s office. Jolly Talukder, general secretary of Garment Workers Trade Union Centre makes the group’s demands very simple, saying that “Every worker deserves legal payment by the employer”.

The union has also garnered support internationally with groups like the IWW and the International Confederation of Labour organising pickets and poster campaigns targeting businesses still trading with the factory worldwide, in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even our own Ayrshire. 

You might ask yourself what benefit these demonstrations can do and what material help this is actually giving the workers in Bangladesh, but the campaign is looking to be on a roll, with the Walmart Group(owners of ASDA) stating they will no longer work with the factory until the workers demands are met. In the UK, only Lidl are yet to issue a response. With mounting pressure on the Dragon Sweater Group, both in Bangladesh and internationally, the workers are hoping to bring management to the negotiating table, reinstating their jobs and wages and returning to normal life.

If you want to get involved you can get more information about the campaign here and if you want to take part in action in support of workers locally and worldwide, you can join the IWW here.

Connecting Communities: Syria to North Ayrshire

As first reported in the Ardrossan Herald, it looks like North Ayrshire is set to welcome 30 more refugees from Syria. Council leader Joe Cullinane tweeted the Herald article stating:

My cabinet will agree our extended commitment this coming Tuesday meaning we will have resettled 230 Syrians by March 2021. Thank you to the North Ayrshire communities who have welcomed them with love, care and kindness!

This means that 6 more families will be settled here in North Ayrshire as part of a nationwide programme that is open to refugees that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) determines to be in the most immediate need for resettlement because of their vulnerability.

In the article, Mr Cullinane also thanks the teams that have worked to support these families in their transition to life here in Scotland and praises the people of Ayrshire after receiving feedback that the communities the refugees have moved in to have, by in large, accepted their new neighbours and made them feel welcome.

Of course we don’t live in a perfect world and he goes on the address the inevitable naysayers:

I said last August, and I repeat today, that I know there will be a vocal minority on social media who oppose our humanitarian efforts but I also know that the majority will welcome our new families with love, care and kindness over the coming months and for that I am eternally grateful.

It’s heartening to hear that these people who have lived through horrors most of us have the privilege of avoiding are being welcomed and cared for in their new home.

The civil war in Syria has been going on now for almost 9 years and since December last year, 800,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes to the province of Idlib. The people of this region have suffered greatly with regular Russian bombardment and the rule of extremists who have claimed the province since the start of the war. Regime forces are pushing in to the region and with the Turkish government not wanting to take in any more refugees, the people are stuck between the two forces.

Some of the most tragic news to come from the region in recent weeks has been from the Atmeh refugee camp. The temperatures in the area have been dipping as low as -7 degrees and without fuel or fire children have started to freeze to death. After living in a damp and cold tent for weeks after fleeing their home due to shelling by regime forces, mother of 4 Samia Mahmoud al-Sattouf woke up on Tuesday morning to find that her 7 month old son Abdul Wahab had frozen to death during the night as the family slept.

This is only one of many similar stories to come from the region. It is a terrible humanitarian crisis and these people deserve all the help that can be provided to them. To read of the horrors that these innocent people face while knowing that many of them face prejudice when they make it to other countries in search for safety and stability is deeply saddening.

Everyone here at ACU wishes nothing but the best to the all the families that find themselves resident in our wee community, and long may they feel welcome here, as all refugees are.

If you want to find out how you can help and support resettlement efforts in Scotland visit https://www.scottishactionforrefugees.org

The Drug Crisis in Ayrshire

Ayrshire has always been an area affected by poverty and unemployment. These issues, combined with strained social services meant that a drug crisis in the area was almost inevitable.

Unfortunately, as the drug trade has boomed, organised crime has moved in, with police reporting there are now four serious and well organised groups profiting off the back of Ayrshire’s drug habit. Among the numerous measures the police have taken in response, some give cause for concern.

The police recently presented a report to South Ayrshire council stating that they had, over the previous year, put more funding into combating the rise of drug related crime, highlighting their tactic of targeting suppliers to strangle the gang’s income, as well as preventing these drugs from reaching buyers. This increase in funding has already shown results, with an increase in the number of drug apprehensions in Ayrshire compared to the same period last year.

New blood has been introduced with the appointment of Mark Hargreaves, taking over the role of Divisional Commander. Nicknamed the “Hammer of the drug dealers of Ayrshire” by the Daily Record- a title that’s a mouthful but invokes the right feeling of the man- Mark is a veteran of the police force of nearly twenty years and before moving to Ayrshire worked in the East End of Glasgow, as well as Pollock and Govan.  

Mark appears to be a man well suited to taking on the drug trade in Ayrshire, both in experience and in attitude. When appointed to the role he specifically called out drug use as a poison in communities, arguing that the presence of drugs in an area leads to an increase in more serious violent crimes.

One facet of this new anti drug trade strategy that is being implemented across Ayrshire is an increased emphasis on coordinating with the community and local businesses. This includes Taxi Marshals, street pastors and even pubs. One such incident resulted in three individuals being caught with drugs in their possession while out in Ayr in early September.

And therein lies the problem. The new spotlight on the drug problem across Ayrshire appears to target drug dealers, the people and gangs that profit from the trade and users together. Tactics like this have a history of falling apart, where the drug user is seen as a criminal rather than a victim. Instead, in areas like Portugal, where drug users are given treatment rather than jail time, far lower rates of drug use and drug related deaths are reported. Treating drug users like criminals leads to higher drug user rates and drug related deaths.

There are doubts surrounding whether or not the drug problem is getting worse in Ayrshire, or if we have simply been an area with historic issues. Ian Cavana, Counsellor for South Ayrshire, has in the past raised concerns over the narrative of increasing drug related issues in the area, instead suggested police are getting better at detecting these issues. Either way the rampancy of drug related issues is not a problem unique to Ayrshire, despite the 82 deaths reported last year; Scotland as a whole tops the charts in drug related deaths across the EU, and not by a small margin. We have nearly double the rates of Estonia, who placed second, and around three times the rate of the UK average; We also have one of the highest rates of drug use in the EU. With around 1.6% of the population estimated to be active drug users the reason behind Scotland’s depressing accolade is clear.

Benzos(like Valium and Xanax) are relatively new in terms of recreational use yet are now topping all other drugs as the leading reason for drug user deaths, with North and East Ayrshire ranking third and fourth respectively in areas of Scotland where Benzos make up the highest proportion of deaths, more so than all other drugs combined.

With new drugs entering into our community and claiming lives, what else is being done to cut off the impact of drugs in our area? The NHS offers services to help users quit drug addictions and groups like Addaction are now active in Ayrshire, trying to close any gaps in rehabilitation services. The question however, remains: Just how much enthusiasm and support do these services really receive from the powers that be?

In a recent East Ayrshire Council meeting Councillor Tom Cook said that a number of constituents had stated they find the presence of people picking up methadone from town centre pharmacies “off-putting”, with many saying “they don’t come in to the town centre because of that.” It was then suggested that the distribution of this treatment should be moved to pharmacies outside the town centre, which would further stigmatise and ghettoise sufferers of addiction, widening the gap between physical and social rehabilitation. While South Ayrshire has an incredibly high rate of supporting people to access alcohol and drug recovery services, constantly topping the Scottish Government’s target, the language of finding people recovering from addiction as “off-putting” speaks to the ongoing need to collectively undo decades of denigrating and dehumanising disinformation propagated by media and governments. This being considered by the council gives me doubts about the faith these institutions have in rehabilitation’s importance in fighting Ayrshire’s drug crisis.

While policies that seek to help users are showing to be successful abroad, is a policy of tarring drug dealers and drug users with the same brush really going to be the policy that helps our community?

Photo by Jonathan Gonzalez on Unsplash