A week after the Savar building collapse, the historic May Day was observed in the country on Wednesday with garment workers staging peaceful demonstrations demanding punishment of the killers of their fellow-workers in the tragic incident.
The workers vowed to fight against repression and social discriminations and realise their due rights and pressed for improving the working conditions along with better wages and job security.
An eight-storey building, Rana Plaza, crashed on Wednesday last, killing at least 402 people, raising concern about the workplace safety standard in the country’s RMG sector.
During today’s protests, the major streets of the capital were rocked with the slogans of thousands of workers. The workers were seen chanting slogans with huge processions in front of National Press Club, Paltan, Nayapaltan, Bijoynagar, Motijheel, Gulistan, Bangabandhu Avenue, High Court intersection, Matsya Bhaban, Malibagh, Badda and other parts of the city.
The May Day, also known as International Workers' Solidarity Day, commemorates the historic uprising of working people in Chicago, USA, at the height of a prolonged fight for an eight-hour workday.
The day was a public holiday. This year the theme of the day was ‘Safe Workplace, Bangladesh will move forward’.
The workers under the banners of different labour organisations joined the procession carrying placards, red flags in hands and wearing red bands around their foreheads.
They carried various messages in line with their demands in the placards and banners. Most of the workers carried a message - the highest punishment of those responsible for the Savar building collapse and huge loss of lives there.
“We don’t think it’s an accident. It’s simply killing. We saw the horror. We demand exemplary punishment of the killers,” Rasheda, a female worker, said who joined a procession in front of the National Press Club.
Her fellow-workers immediately started chanting slogans demanding punishment of the Rana Plaza owner and the owners of the factories housed in the crashed building.
In the morning, Bangladesh Sramik League brought out a procession from the Bangabandhu Avenue which paraded Dainik Bangla, Motijheel and Balaka Chattar, and ended at Bangabandhu Avenue.
Later, T&T Sramik League brought out another procession from the Stadium area in the morning.
Bangladesh Trade Union Centre also brought out a procession at about 9am and they held a rally in front of Central Shaheed Minar. Activists of different organisations joined the rally.
From the rally, the workers demanded that Tk 8,000 be fixed as the minimum wage for them, 50 percent dearness allowance, right to unionism, maternity leave for women, a precise list of the missing workers and lifelong compensation for the injured workers of the Savar tragedy.
Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal, Garment Sramik Oikya Forum, Equity for Justice, Bangladesh Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra, Bangladesh Jatiya Sramik Jote, Bangladesh Garment Sramik Federation and other organisations observed various programmes.
In a May Day rally in the city, Rashed Khan Menon, MP demanded punishment of those responsible for the Savar building collapse and the loss of huge lives there.
He said the workers were forced to join works despite knowing that the building was in danger.
In another rally, Shipping Minister M Shajahan Khan said the government is sincere about the rights of workers. “The government is gradually fulfilling workers demands.”
Marking the day, Labour Department brought out a procession. The procession ended in front of National Press Club starting from Labour Building in Motijheel. Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan led the procession.
State Minister for Labour and Employment Begum Monnujan Sufian, Labour Department Director Aby Sayed M Khurshid Alam, Jatiya Sramik League president Sukkur Mahmud were also present.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Sramik Federation also brought out a procession and held a rally at Gulistan.
A discussion meeting was held at Osmani Memorial Auditorium at 10 am on the significance of the day. Two seminars will be held at the same venue on Thursday on the occasion.
Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal held a rally in front of the National Press Club at 10 am. Newspapers published supplements while radio and television channels aired special programmes to mark the day.
Union leaders in Chittagong said they would not allow the owners to make money standing on the dead bodies of workers and urged the owners to stop thinking of profit in exchange of workers’ lives.
They made a call at a rally marking the May Day, held at in front of Chittagong EPZ entry point in the morning. Bangladesh Garment Sramik Sanghati arranged the rally.
The leaders also called upon the owners to follow rules in constructing building for their factories.
Convener of the Trade Union Federation, Chittagong Siddiqul Islam, Garment Sramik Sanghati, Chittagong unit general secretary Hasan Maruf Rumi, among others, spoke on the occasion.
On May 1, 1886, 10 workers were killed when police opened fire on a demonstration in the US city of Chicago near Hay Market demanding an 8-hour working day instead of a 12-hour shift. On the height of agitation, the authorities had to accept the workers' demand and the eight-hour day has been introduced universally.
On July 14, 1889 in Paris, an international workers' rally declared May 1 as the International Workers Solidarity Day in recognition of the Chicago workers' sacrifice and achievement and since 1890, the day has been observed globally as the International Workers Solidarity Day.