Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

The fire that killed three workers

A factory fire broke out Saturday, July 13, in a hardware factory in the Jhilmil industrial area, in New Delhi. Three workers were killed: Manju Devi, 50 years old, mother of five; Sangeeta Devi, 46 years old, mother of three; Shoaib Ali, 19 years old, one of two children. The Jhilmil industrial area is 20 some miles from the Bawana Industrial Area, where a fire broke out January 2018 in a firecracker factory. An hour by car, more or less, separates the two factory zones. A year and a half separate the two fires. In that year and a half, absolutely nothing has been done to ameliorate the conditions of factory workers in New Delhi. As was the case in Bawana, Saturday’s factory fine in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women.

For a couple days there was news coverage. The two brothers who owned the factory have been arrested. The factory license had expired and so the factory had no license. The factory had no “firefighting measures.” The fire was massive, the brothers were negligent. The stories of each of the three murdered workers are plaintive and heart rending. In other words, this “tragedy” is precisely like the earlier “tragedies”. Add the Jhilmil industrial area to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Bawana Industrial Area,India: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation, Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. 

The Jhilmil factory had no license because it didn’t have to have a license: “The factory was operating in the area of 110 sq metres and a fire NoC [No objection Certificate] is not required for the area below 250 sq metre as per norms.” According to some estimates, “around 90% of units in industrial areas of Delhi lack fire safety norms.” Some of those factories are in violation of the law, but the vast majority aren’t. They are “per norms”. That is, respectively, they comprise individual areas of less than 250 square meters, and so don’t need any license. The majority of factories in New Delhi’s industrial zones are less than 250 square meters in area. Per norms. That’s the law. That’s how it is. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women, and the planners of that massacre are factory owners, the State, and all who looked the other way, or better, see and construct a world “per norms” in which people who work in larger factories have some value, are collectively worth the cost of a fire extinguisher and an alarm, and those, the majority, who work in the smaller factories, the `informal’ factories, they are less than dirt, less than the ash that fills the air and covers the earth after a massive fire. Saturday’s factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of workers, the majority of whom were women. It won’t be the last such massacre.

(Photo Credit: The Hindu / R. V. Moorthy)

Thailand bus fire kills 20 migrant workers from Myanmar. 18 were women. Who cares?

Early Friday morning, March 30, in Tak Province, a bus carrying workers from Myanmar to a factory district caught fire. The bus was carrying 48 workers, plus the driver and his wife. 20 workers were killed, 18 women, 2 men. Once again, despite the overwhelming gender composition of this event, the international press described the dead as simply “migrant workers” and then proceeded to focus on Thailand’s hazardous roads and the shoddy condition of the bus. Thailand has dangerous roads, but this incident was a rolling factory fire. As in Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines; Bawana Industrial Area, India, and so many others, this bus fire was a planned massacre of women workers. And, as so often in these cases, the news media generally glosses over the massacre as an assault on women.

What happened? A bus carrying 48 women workers, a bus driver and his wife, was on route  from Myanmar to the Nava Nakorn Industrial Zone, near Bangkok. The bus was without air conditioning. Around 1:40, a fire broke out in the middle of the bus and spread quickly. Those in the front managed to escape. Those in the back were burnt to death.

Pa Pa Hlaing, a 19-year-old woman worker survivor, said, “When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus. We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”

According to reports, the workers, from Myanmar, were all properly registered migrant workers. According to the Thai Labor Ministry, Thailand has about 2.7 million registered migrant workers, primarily from Myanmar and Cambodia. Women migrant workers figure prominently in the industrial and agricultural sector as well as among domestic workers. There is no surprise when, of 20 people killed in a factory fire, 18 are women. There is no surprise that the bus was in such bad shape it would have to be described as equipped to kill at least 20 people in the event of a fire or other catastrophe. There is no surprise here, none of this is new. It’s all part of the development model the entire world has signed on to. Apparently, the women workers in this particular bus were heading to work in a Japanese-owned toy factory.

At what point do women matter to the world at large? At what point do the world media begin to consider the high numbers of women killed in the disasters built into our built landscapes, from the garbage dumps of Maputo, Mozambique, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the earthquake struck buildings of Mexico City, Mexico, to the factories across the globe? This past week, a bus in Thailand caught fire. 20 migrant workers from Myanmar were killed. 18 were women. Who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Bangkok Post)

The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

Add Bawana Industrial Area firecracker factory, just outside New Delhi, India, to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. In this instance, on Saturday, an illegal but altogether known firecracker factory burst into flames. Seventeen people were burned or suffocated to death, ten women, seven men. Earlier in the day, three women workers protested “hazardous” working conditions. They complained that they couldn’t breathe because the air was so thick with gunpowder. They refused to work, took their day’s pay and left. As they left, they tried to persuade two other women to leave. The two women refused. They needed the money. A couple hours later, the building exploded.

The factory was registered as a plastics factory. In fact, it made gunpowder. The workers had no idea what they were producing, nor did they know the owners were in violation of the law. They knew the work was hard, the pay low, but it was a job. Until it wasn’t.

The workers’ stories, those who died and those who survived, are heartrending as they are familiar. The story of the factory is familiar as well. There were no fire safeguards, nor were their occupational safeguards. There was only one exit. The three women who left initially demanded masks, so they could breathe and continue to work. It was only when the manager refused that request that the three took their money and left.

The story of Bawana Industrial Area is the overarching story of national and metropolitan economic development. New Delhi is a congested, polluted city. In response, many factories have moved to so-called industrial parks just outside the city. In 2016, Bawana Industrial Area had around 18,000 industrial units. At last count, Bawana Industrial Area has 51,697 industrial units. They are almost never inspected. The licensing processes are a lethal joke: “In Bawana, industrial units range from drugs and pharmaceuticals, petroleum-based products, chemical products, rubber products. In the absence of any random inspection, many units flout industrial norms, even as work continues unabated.” You can get anything you want …

And now? The factory owner is detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neighbors keen and mourn. The world perhaps stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow. None of this is new or unforeseen. There is nothing exceptional about Bawana Industrial Area. The authorities expect the same conditions exist across New Delhi’s suburban industrial landscape.  Industrial fire codes are prominent discussed, and every day workers, mostly women, entered a fireworks factory that had no proper exit and no fire safety equipment. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. That fire was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The shape of global capital development today is a burning pyre composed of women workers’ bodies. It lights the sky. We have never left the age of primitive accumulation, “and the history of this … is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.”

 

(Photo Credit: NDTV)

The factory fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers

A police officer stands in front of the factory

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, in Tangerang, a city near Jakarta, local, national, regional, and global economic development tossed another 49 charred bodies, almost all women and girls, onto the sacrificial pyre. A fireworks factory “experienced” a fire. Two explosions roared, and 49 workers burned to death. The factory employed 103 workers, almost all women and girls. The death toll continues to rise. The 49 dead, and the 54 survivors, most of whom are severely injured, join their sisters from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the United States, to the Kader Toy Factory in Thailand, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in China, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in Bangladesh, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in the Philippines two years ago and the House Technologies Industries earlier this year, also in the Philippines. Every one of these was a planned massacre of women workers. Last week’s fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers. Everyone knew it would happen, sooner or later.

Why did so many women die? So many women died because women were the workers. It makes “economic sense”, which means the pay is low and the working conditions abysmal. Now that the smoke and stench rise from the pile of 49 charred workers, almost all women and girls, now the world takes notice of “Indonesia’s conjoined struggles with workplace safety, widespread child labor and keeping children in school.”

Why did so many women die? So many women died because there was no rear exit, and so they were trapped by flames and smoke, and many were burned beyond recognition.

Since the early 1980s, researchers have been writing about women workers in Tangerang. Along with nearby Cikarang, Tangerang has been “at the heart of the Indonesian industrial system since the export boom of the 1970s”, and, from the 1970s until today, the living and working conditions have been described as “hell-like”. Women have organized, through unions and through other associations, for improvements, which come and go. Women workers in Tangerang have organized mass strikes, famously in 1991. Most of the women who work in Tangerang have migrated there, from rural areas in Indonesia, and so, despite decades of struggle, in some ways, the struggle begins anew with every new cohort.

And now? The factory owners are detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neigbhors keen and mourn. The world yet again stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow and loss. None of this is new or unforeseen. Tangerang specifically has been in the eye of public policy, environmental, labor, women’s, children’s, development scholars’ and activists’ studies for four decades. Industrial fire codes have been in everyone’s eyes for over a century. And yet, day in and day out, 103 workers, almost all women and girls, went to work in a fireworks factory that had no proper exit in case of fire or other catastrophe. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women and girl workers’ bodies exploded, when the daughters’ and mothers’ and sisters’ bodies blew up, there was no accident. That was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The fire was like a roar. “After that, there were no voices anymore.”

 

(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe / Yudha Baskoro)

The Philippines factory fire was yet another planned massacre of workers


In the Philippines, House Technologies Industries owns a three-story factory in the Cavite Export Processing Zone, also known as the Cavite Economic Zone, south of Manila. On February 1, in the evening during shift change, a fire broke out. That fire raged for two full days before it was finally put out. Fire exits were locked, windows barred, corridors far too narrow to allow for quick passage: this was no accident. Yet again, as in the Kentex fire two years ago, this fire and those workers burned to death and the workers critically injured are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now. What have the owners, including the State, learned in the years since the Kentex fire? They’ve learned the art of cover-up.

According to a report released by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, “Nearly all those interviewed … believed that many were trapped inside and have died. The stream of people desperately seeking to go out of the building was too big for the employee’s passageways and fire exits to accommodate. There were accounts that the fire exits were locked, forcing escaping workers to break windows as their means of egress. Workers claim that the company’s exit stairs land inside the building, or in the delivery section within the company compound. There was no exit that lands on the streets. A witness shared that he did not see anyone who escaped using the same exit he went out of, only through passageways and windows.

“There were accounts that windows were tightly screwed on window sill and witnesses saw workers including a pregnant woman jumped out from the third floor window. Other witnesses narrated that on their way out, they left behind workers on the floor, unconscious. They also saw flames rapidly chasing the escaping workers. Relatives of those who were injured also told that their relative was able to escape by crawling over and stepping on unconscious bodies on the floor, whom they presumed dead.

“The National Building Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 6541) and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards prescribed specific design, size, width and dimension for fire exits and passageway, particularly in structures for different loads and those that contain highly combustible materials for safer egress and other. Examining the accounts, the law’s prescriptions were amiss in the HTI fire, the biggest fire in the country’s history of Export Processing Zones (EPZs).”

In its conclusion, the Commission notes, “There were more women working in the Quality Control in the 3rd floor including a pregnant woman who jumped out from the 3rd  floor window and more possibly trapped. From the reported 126 workers injured brought to hospital … there were 25 women … Where were those women workers? What happened to that pregnant woman? The distance from the ground floor to the third floor is high, as vertical clearance alone from the 1st to the 2nd floor, where containers are brought in, is estimated to about 18 feet (5.49 meters) high.”

We have been here before. The State can find violation of safety regulations, or not, and the trade unions can protest working conditions and demand an independent investigation, but the factories and sweatshops go up, bars cover the windows, doors are locked from the outside, and no one does anything. This is the second fire at the HTI factory in four years. In the first fire, HTI was exonerated of any fault. After this fire, HTI called in employees and told them to keep quiet. Some say the company forced them to erase video and photo evidence from their phones. Some say the company only counted full time employees in its tally. HTI is the largest employer in the Cavite Economic Zone.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, in New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015, to the House Technologies Industries in 2017, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory was built as a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. Today, March 26, 2017, we begin the 117th year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Era, in which we can eradicate epidemic diseases and yet stand by and watch as the factory fires grow larger, more intense, and more lethal, and women jump from windows to the hard earth below.

After the fire

 

(Photo Credit 1: CTUHR) (Photo Credit 2: Rappler / Naoki Mengua)

The Philippines factory fire was a planned massacre of women workers

A new collection of specters haunts the earth today: 72 workers killed yesterday in a slipper factory fire in the Valenzuela district of Manila. There was no accident. That fire and those workers burning to death are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now.

The fire “started” when sparks set off an explosion. The slaughter of the innocents began long before the spark. The windows were covered, sealed tight, by metal gratings. Even now, the local mayor isn’t sure the building had any fire escapes.

Dionesio Candido, whose daughter, granddaughter, sister-in-law and niece were among the missing, said iron grilles reinforced with fencing wire covered windows on the second floor that `could prevent even cats from escaping’.”

Those workers – daughters, granddaughters, sisters-in-law, nieces – were deemed less valuable than cats, and far less valuable than the chemicals, the machinery, and the slippers in the building.

None of this is new. The State can “investigate quickly”, if it likes, and the trade unions can protest “working conditions”, but the factories and sweatshops go up, the bars and grills cover the windows, and doors are locked from the outside, the flammable materials are next to the welding machines, and no one does anything … until the fire explodes.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and now to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015 Manila, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. There was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Ezra Acayan)