Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2020

Made in Bangladesh

Filed under: imperialism/globalization,trade unions — louisproyect @ 9:26 pm

Yesterday, “Made in Bangladesh” opened as Virtual Cinema and on Amazon Prime. It is a gritty neo-realist tale of an attempt to form a union in a small garment shop in Dakha, the capital of Bangladesh. Like “Norma Rae”, the film has a plucky woman challenging the boss and the leadfooted government agency that certifies trade unions.

The film is set in an actual sweatshop in Dakha and shows the super-exploitation and personal humiliation the 68 female women operating sewing machines and irons have to put up with. Written and directed by a woman–Rubaiyat Hossain—it depicts how patriarchy oppresses women both as workers and as wives. The lead character is named Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu), a 23-year old who ran off to Dakha in her teens to escape being married off to a 40-year old man. To help her make it through the first few days in Dakha, she steals her father’s wallet. This is a woman with little regard for patriarchal norms.

Shimu is married to  Sohel (Mostafa Monwar), an observant, unemployed Muslim, who despite being reliant on his wife’s meager wages, lords it over her—or at least tries to. When she takes on the role of getting co-workers to sign up for the union, she gains self-confidence in herself and finally the nerve to act independently of Sohel’s dictates.

The final scene consists of Shimu in a stand-off with the bureaucrat who has been sitting on the papers she has submitted for approving the union. It is truly inspiring. Three years ago I reviewed a documentary about Indian textile workers titled “Machines”. My strong advice is to see the two films in tandem. (“Machines” is available on Amazon Prime.) What I said about “Machines” applies to “Made in Bangladesh” as well:

Filmed almost entirely in a vast dungeon of a textile mill in Gujarat, it is hard not to see the workers as being an extension of the machines they operate. Marx described such factory life in Chapter 10 of V. 1 of Capital, titled “The Working Day”:

It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery.

This is exactly what you see in “Machines”, a process in which workers are slaves to the machine. It is what Charlie Chaplin depicted comically in “Modern Times” and Fritz Lang depicted more darkly in “Metropolis”. As long as capitalism exists, this is the fate of the working class. In the USA, many workers wax nostalgic for the $20-40 jobs that prevailed in the 60s but for the Gujarat textile workers, the hope is for an 8-hour day and a wage that enables them to send a bit home to their family, some living thousands of miles away. Most of them appear to be ex-farmers who have been crushed by debt and drought. In the decades before Marx was born, it was the Enclosure Acts that accomplished the same results. Peasants were robbed of their means of self-subsistence and forced into the textile mills of Birmingham and Manchester that William Blake referred to as dark and satanic.




1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for pointing these films out. I’ll be sure to check them out, the garment industry workers have always been exploited in the most terrible way.

    You may be interested in the BBC Play For Today from 1974, ‘Leeds-United!’ It’s about the 1970 women textile workers strike in the north of England and their struggle for equal pay. Not only did they have to take on the bosses, they also had to take on the union officials.
    This is really relevant stuff for today from Colin Welland, one of a few great writers back in the 70’s.

    And the struggle for factory workers continues today. A report in the Guardian details the appalling situation where health and safety inspectors have only visited Leciester’s garment 1000 factories sixty times, and 28 fire inspections since 2017

    Comment by splodgen — August 30, 2020 @ 11:54 pm

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