Workers’ struggle for recognition and rights continues

Editorial, NewAge, May 1, 2009

WORKERS’ struggle for dignity and respect is one that has yet to go a long way towards ensuring establishment of their rights. Today, the 123rd anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago symbolises that spirit. While we pay tribute to those killed in 1886 for demanding humane working conditions, even as this day is celebrated across the world, the struggle goes on in different forms in different parts of the world including in Bangladesh, where a vast majority of the labour force continues to toil without even the minimum recognition of their rights.
   

Although the garment factory workers are the first ones that come to mind whenever workers’ rights are discussed, their issue has at least managed to come to the fore. There is at least a semblance of movement striving to establish better conditions and pay for the garment factory workers. There are, however, a large of number workers and labourers who are not even recognised as such. The two obvious examples are agricultural labour and household domestic labour. Both the groups have substantial contribution to the economy and national output but are not even recognised as ‘labour’ by the government. As such, there is no framework or guideline that ensures a certain level of wages or benefits for farm labourers or domestic workers. There is no mechanism to guarantee that these millions of people will have decent working conditions and enough pay to fulfil their basic needs or that they live with human dignity and respect. Perhaps, more unfortunately, the required social movement and public mobilisation towards realisation of the rights of these groups are also absent altogether.
   

The reasons are many. But one would not be wrong to posit that since their society is perpendicularly divided into mainstream partisan lines, the political establishment has never considered these groups as a force significant enough for consideration. Had the labourer and workers been able to unite and wage their own movement, the political establishment, whether the government or the opposition, would have realised that this is indeed a force to reckon with. But they apparently fall prey to the narrow partisan interests and in the process their voice is entirely lost amid the crude power struggle of the mainstream political parties.
   

It should not, however, be in doubt that the prime factor of production, which is labour, plays a crucial role for the economic growth and development of a country. And a system that pointedly and almost deliberately ignores the interests and welfare of those workers and labourers will in the end prove to be fragile and unsustainable. Since the government is not apparently interested, although it should by all means, the more conscious sections of the citizenry should initiate a movement and mobilise public opinion in a constructive manner to ensure and realise labour rights.

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