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.

Palliative Protests: How Liberals Undermine Social Movements

The murder of George Floyd has galvanised a desire for change extending far beyond the borders of the United States. The most recent in a long line of racially motivated police killings, George’s death and the resultant police response to protests, have revealed the callousness with which a great many law enforcement officials wield their power. Amidst a backdrop of coronavirus, social disenfranchisement, and police brutality, peaceful protests have erupted into riots and looting across America, invariably with police inciting or exacerbating through excessive force. As video after video surfaces online of police engaging in violent suppression of largely peaceful protesters, many are recognising the need for a serious and widespread interrogation of our relationship to the mechanisms of power and social control.

With that said, hand wringing over the validity of rioting and looting as a form of political protest threaten to overtake the issues; predictably, conservatives- who portray themselves as gun-toting freedom fighters ready to go toe-to-toe against government tyranny- are positively salivating at the prospect of government violence being meted out against their enemies- these violent thugs with no respect for property rights or law enforcement. This gleeful inconsistency on their part is par for the course; what is more insidious, however, is the tendency of supposedly well-meaning liberals to hijack social movements and placate them while performing their support. The anger and desire for change which liberal protestors feel is often proportionally less than that of others involved in rioting and looting, no matter their radical rhetoric (adopted as it comes in and out of vogue).

This article will consider the role liberals play in de-fanging and disowning protest movements, often demeaning or erasing the very people they purport to care about, all whilst demanding little in the way of change.

One of the recurring criticisms levelled at protests by conservatives and liberals alike is that rioting- and especially looting, the wanton infringement of property rights- in some sense diminishes the seriousness of the demonstration, detracts from “the message” and robs them of their political legitimacy. This claim is nothing new; as far back as the 1960s conservatives and liberal elites have attempted to police the boundaries of acceptable protest by casting aspersions on the working classes engaged in acts of social disorder, like property damage and looting. For conservatives, this means characterising riotous protesters as violent degenerate thugs, often with racialised overtones. Liberals- who typically place themselves ostensibly on the side of change and progress- weaponize Martin Luther King Jr in decrying rioting and looting; here, they say, is evidence of the evergreen effectiveness of peaceful protest. Offering up a palliative and reductive distortion of the civil rights movement, liberals effectively erase not only Malcolm X, but almost the entire revolutionary character of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr existed against a tumultuous and violent backdrop of rioting in which marginalised communities strove to assert themselves against an oppressive system which routinely and openly denigrated them. While MLK had his own perspective on the righteousness of rioting, this was not shared by all who were fighting for emancipation. Had there been no civil unrest as a threatening backdrop, MLKs tactics would likely have proved less effective in bringing lawmakers to the negotiating table.

Additionally, this liberal invocation of Martin Luther King Jr, with various sombre references to the world he envisioned in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, betrays its insincerity in its depthlessness. Opinions are, of course, not static and towards the end of his life MLK had begun to show a greater understanding for rioting and its legitimacy as a means of political dissent. “Riots do not develop out of thin air… a riot is the language of the unheard.” While still critical of the effectiveness of riots in achieving political goals, MLK did not, in doing so, undermine the legitimate grievances of the working class, or fail to recognise the conditions from which riots emerge. That MLK’s actions and previous positioning allows disengaged liberals to pay lip-service to social progress- while simultaneously preserving their own economic interest- was perfectly encapsulated by such individuals accusing MLKs son of misappropriating his own father’s words. Perennially, these predominantly middle-class, predominantly white people stand atop the moral high ground, tutting paternalistically at the huddled masses who don’t know what’s good for them.

While this moralistic dismissal of rioters is most readily observable in the white middle-classes, themselves removed from the protests and brutality of police oppression, it does in fact cut across racial boundaries, revealing the class interests at the heart of these criticisms. In the face of civil disobedience and protests in Atlanta, Run The Jewels MC and landlord Killer Mike took to a podium with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. While wearing a T-shirt reading “Kill Your Masters”, a visibly upset Mike cautioned protestors against “burning down our own homes”, despite black people in Atlanta making up the bulk of the city’s workforce while being disproportionately less likely to own a home. As Mike took the opportunity to encourage people to vote their way out of oppression with a mishmash of buzzwords,  absent from Mike’s T-shirt, the twin directive “Kill Your Idols” was a silent scream. 

Both white and black middle class self-styled leaders attempt to hijack the rhetoric and trajectory of social movements, bringing them into the orbit of their own class interests, namely the aspirational preservation of their wealth, status and property. Another key way in which this manifests itself is in the scapegoating of the “outside agitator”. While conservatives use rioting as an excuse to legitimise violent and oppressive policing- the mobilising of state-sanctioned tyranny against their political opponents- liberals make reference to the presence of “outside agitators” souring the character and spirit of the protest movement. This spectral opponent allows Democrat senators and mayors to use the presence of subversive elements as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from uncomfortable social truths, to pretend there is no civil unrest bubbling over in their own citizenry, that white nationalists and/or antifascist organisers are using their once idyllic towns and cities as battlegrounds for a shadowy proxy-war. In Cleveland, a city with a Democrat mayor, Police Chief Calvin Williams preemptively claimed that the majority of detainees during protests had been from out of state. Jail records later showed that not only were those arrested mostly from Cleveland, most were also black. Frequently this attitude and rhetoric extends also to social leaders both black and white aiming to demobilize the more radical elements within the social movement. This is not to deny the presence of such actors within a widespread and diverse movement with no centrally planned directives; but the characterisation and insistent blame of the bulk of property damage and looting on white fringe elements effectively erases the black working class involved in more radical action. Fearful of playing into stereotypes, and of acknowledging the destruction of property as a legitimate expression of outrage at a culture which values and protects property over people, liberals instead marginalise radical black activists and the working class in favour of an anaemic version of social justice which seeks only to improve their standing within the status quo.

Perhaps most egregious in liberal insistence that rioting sets back social progress by entrenching prejudicial beliefs is that this claim is patently false. As recently as 2014, the Ferguson riots following the murder of Michael Brown present a microcosm of events which are now playing out on the national (and international) level. Despite an onslaught of negative press coverage, recent research has shown that the attention commanded by the Ferguson riots led to a significant increase in those who feel equality is still an issue which needs to be addressed, even among republican voters. To bring this closer to home for a moment, the 1990 riots in the UK against the poll tax lead to the bill being repealed and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation.

The duplicity of liberal involvement with and commentary on social movements should be of concern to any who desire fundamental change. By allowing them to take the reigns, we set ourselves up for more of the same with regards to policing and government. Already emergent in the wake of discussions around police brutality following George Floyd’s murder is a schism between liberal “reformists” and the radical desire for the abolition of policing in its current form. Liberals, keen to preserve the state’s monopoly on violence, seem to think institutional racism can be overcome with a diet of increased funding, sensitivity training and increased accountability, completely disregarding that all such methods have been tried and tested time and again and the results are plain to see. Yet with their aspirational and actual class interest in the preservation of the sanctity of private property, liberals cannot envisage a world without the need for police as agents of property enforcement, and so will continue to be ineffectual conduits for manifest social change.

Minneapolis riots

No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States. 

On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital. 

The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. 

The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.

By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. 

The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further. 

In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.

On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause. 

This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other. 

Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night. 

Saturday began with Trump threatening to use the national guard to suppress civil unrest; a terrifying prospect for anyone concerned about human life, out of the 12 times this has happened previously in American history, 10 of these times had been in response to black communities protesting state violence and 8 of these deployments resulted in the National Guard using firing on American citizens. Trump’s words clearly had the desired effect as later last night the Governor released a statement that 80% of those arrested had come from outside of his state, a claim unsupported by arrest records, which show that those arrested were predominantly from inside Minnesota and Minneapolis. This false pretext has since been used to justify the full mobilisation of the National Guard. At the time of writing, no one has yet been killed, but with 2500 troops heading into the state, with maybe 12000 more mobilised across the US- ostensibly to assist in the coronavirus pandemic response– this looks likely to change knowing the historic reputation of the Guard.

We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.