A few months ago, the first anarchosyndicalist organization was formed in Bangladesh – the Bangladesh Anarcho-syndicalist Federation (BASF). The comrades would like to build a national organization, with unions in several industries. For now, their base is in the Sylhet region where some activists of that organization had been organizing workers from tea gardens for many years. This means that it is, at least for now, one of the rare anarchosyndicalist organizations whose potential base are agricultural laborers, rather than employed in other areas of production or services. However, the organization does not plan to limit itself in such a way and is exploring other areas where they can organize.
The BASF organized a conference at the beginning of July 2018, which the General Secretary of the IWA was invited to speak at. About 60 people were in attendance. Most of them were women who work in the tea gardens but also others came – people who work in the garment industry or warehouses, produce vehicles or work in food processing.
Workers from the tea gardens face extreme exploitation, earning about 1USD a day for endless hours of hard work in the oppressive heat. They usually work every day and need to do this to survive, so it was really a huge thing that so many women came to the conference.
As the main speaker at the conference, I wanted to bring the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism close to home. We spoke about the nature of exploitation and capitalism and the need to get rid of it to start building the egalitarian society but also we spoke about more bread and butter issues and organizing an effective resistance to the plantation owners. We also talked about how international solidarity may be used – for example, in pressuring the owners to improve conditions. Such solidarity actually had some concrete effects in Bangladesh in the past, in relation to the conditions of garment workers. Still the situation is not acceptable and will never be acceptable until the misery of wage slavery, imposed on people through private ownership, is eliminated.
One does not have to convince people that the situation they live in is highly unjust or that if they got rid of the bosses and ran things themselves, their own situations would be much better. In such close agricultural communities, where people have lived together and worked together for decades, there is a great sense of togetherness and solidarity. These people know that it is their labour that produces all the wealth in the area – something they unfortunately are not able to enjoy themselves.
The reception was good. Another comrade spoke and also expanded on matters.
In Bangladesh, although there is no real anarchist tradition, there was a strong communist tradition – one that many still adhere to. Since some of the people in attendance used to be communists and such people still try to agitate in the area, comrades thought it would be a good idea to refer to the differences between these ideas and maybe tell a little bit about the history. With my personal background in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, I could say a little bit not only about the history of the revolution betrayed, but how power corrupts and how “communism” developed. The workers were not surprised to hear about how many of yesterday’s pseudo-communist elite became privatization barons, oligarchs and business moguls.
After the general conference, there were still more discussion with comrades who want to build the organization and wanted to discuss various issues.
The comrades said they were generally happy with the event and that next time they will think about organizing something bigger, with more people and maybe more speakers.
I would like to thank the comrades for the organization of the event and the warm hospitality! Special thanks to comrade Shihab for all the help with translation during the conference. But most importantly, on behalf of many comrades of the IWA, we wish them luck for the building of an anarchosyndicalist movement in their region.
General Secretary, IWA