During a “Townterview” this week with young Bangladeshi leaders at the International School in Dhaka, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton drew applause in fielding a question about repression of worker rights and the murder of union activist Aminul Islam, a longtime friend and colleague of the Solidarity Center.
Aleya Akter, secretary general of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), asked, through an interpreter: “We work with worker rights. And there we face all kinds of obstructions with the police, goons, thugs, and false allegations in court. And, in fact, one of our leaders, Aminul Islam, was very brutally murdered. With such conditions, how can we work with the cause of worker rights?”
Clinton responded, touching on issues of impunity, the history of worker rights in the United States and developing countries, and employers’ and governments’ responsibilities to support the rights of working people.
“First let me say that I spoke out strongly to point [out] that there needed to be an independent investigation into the murder of Mr. Islam, because certainly his family and his colleagues deserve answers about what happened to him,” said Clinton. “So on that particular case, this is a real test for the government and for the society to make sure you don’t say that anyone can have impunity. That’s a key issue for the rule of law.
“Secondly,” she continued, “on your larger question, the history of labor rights and labor unions in any developing society is always difficult. There are strong forces that oppose workers being organized. We have this in my own country. You go back to the 19th and the early 20th century when labor unions were just getting started, there were goons, there were thugs, there were killings, there were riots, there were terrible conditions. We passed laws at the beginning of the 20th century against child labor, against too many hours for people to work, but that took time. It took time to develop a sense of political will to address those issues. So you are beginning that, and it’s a very important struggle. I think in today’s world, everything is accelerated because everything is known. There are no secret issues that can’t be exposed. There are exposés about factories from China to Latin America. So you are doing very important work. Do not be discouraged or intimidated. But you deserve to have the support of your government and your society.
“The third point I would make is that we have worked from Colombia to Cambodia with the owners of factories and other enterprises to help them understand how they can continue to make a very good profit while treating their workers right. And in fact, we have spent a lot of time trying to help owners of businesses understand how to do that. And it’s worked. And we have people who are quite experts in that.
Clinton concluded her response, saying: “Workers deserve to have their labor respected and fairly paid for. Factory owners deserve to have what they pay for, which is an honest day’s work for the wages that they pay. So there is a way to accommodate those interests, and we’ve seen it, and we can continue to work with you to try to achieve it.”
Solidarity Center Mourns Death of Aminul Islam. April 16, 2012—The Solidarity Center is appalled at the murder of Aminul Islam, a longtime friend and colleague. Islam, 39, was a plant-level union leader at an export processing zone (EPZ) in Bangladesh, an organizer for the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity (BCWS), and president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation’s (BGIWF) local committee in the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka. He left behind a wife and three children.