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)

Orlando: There must be more than grief


That you would not have done this dire massacre on your honour
Ben Jonson, Volpone

Last April, in response to the massacre at Garissa, we quoted, in full, Shailja Petal’s poem, “Garissa.”

Garissa

the morning after a massacre
a country wakes nauseous

no food stays down
no chai comforts

on the roads
they drag crosses

blood is given
blood invoked
blood sanctified
blood is our national language

on TV the men
talk blood and markets

tears
stay out of the newsrooms

there will be more killing
there will always be
more killing

a state will punish survivors
with pogroms

an army will terrorize
the terrrorized, traumatize
the traumatized

the merchants of war
have already moved on
to the next transaction

the death-profiteers spent the night
reviewing cost-benefit reports

a country stares at its amputation stumps
the morning after a massacre

Then in May, we wrote of the factory massacre of women workers in the Philippines; in July the massacre of women and children by the Mexican army and the massacre of women in Khayelitsha, in South Africa, and Mymensingh, in India; and in February the massacre of prisoners in Topo Chico Prison, in Mexico. We wrote of massacres before and there were massacres we did not address since.

This is the age of massacre; we are the ones who have built a global slaughterhouse in a period that is formally at peace. We move furiously and quickly back to the root of our violence, calling it progress or destiny. And today we are in Orlando, wherever we are, afraid to read, listen, watch, as the numbers of lost human lives rises.

“For I must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres,
Acts of black night, abominable deeds,
Complots of mischief, treason, villanies
Ruthful to hear, yet piteously perform’d”
William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus

These reports were once reports of fantastic evil, which now inhabits the everyday. We were meant to know the difference between one massacre and another. We were meant to know the significance of the massacre was its brutal elimination of the humanity of the individuals who were butchered. Now, it’s the massacres themselves that blur.

“We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.”
Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck

By cowardice or courage, there must be more to life than grief, more killing, and the worldwide collective acceptance of reports of tallies and carnage and loss. We must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres, but there must be more than grief.

 

(Image Credit: Facebook)

In the night and fog of the war on drugs, children are being massacred

The United States declared a war on drugs and sent Mexico, and in particular Mexican indigenous and rural women and children, straight to hell. The Mexican army repeatedly massacres women and children, and each incident is greeted with shock and outrage … and the ticking of a stopwatch until the next bloodletting. Last June: Tlatlaya, in Mexico State. Last September: the Ayotzinapa massacre, in Iguala, Guerrero. This weekend, it was Santa María Ostula, in Michoacán. The weekend before, it was Calera, in Zacatecas. In each instance, and in all the non-instances in between, children are disappearing, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’, and it is all part of the plan.

Last year, Mexican Army soldiers swooped down on Tlatlaya in an ostensible drug raid. According to documents made public this month, they had orders to kill. For the few who survived, like Clara Gómez González, this was old news. They saw the soldiers come in, guns and eyes blazing. For a year, Clara Gómez González has charged the army with premeditated murder. According to Clara Gómez González, it was night, and she was sitting in the corner of a cellar when the door burst open and the soldiers poured in, firing tracer bullets. She immediately went to find her 14-year old daughter Erika Gómez. She found her lying on the ground, face down, shot in the leg. She took her pulse. She was alive: “I couldn’t speak. Then more shots poured in. I turned to hide. I never saw Erika again.”

Now, all Clara Gómez González wants is justice for her daughter. The State might possibly offer Clara Gómez González money. But justice? Never. Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’. None of this is new.

More recently, on July 7, in Calera, seven day laborers, farm workers, were abducted by the armed forces. Their bodies were later found in a pit.. They were all shot at point blank range, almost all in the neck. Two women and five men tried to make some money working the land to send home to their families. Their children are also disappearing.

This past weekend, the army descended on Santa María Ostula, guns blazing. It’s not clear how many were killed and injured, but this much is clear: the army killed 6-year-old Neymi Natali Pineda Reyes and 12-year-old Idilberto Reyes García. According to the boy’s aunt, Edith Balviera, Idilberto was out buying diapers. According to the girl’s aunt Guadalupe, Neymi was playing. The army claims the children were bystanders caught in crossfire. There were no bystanders. There was no crossfire or any accident. There was a massacre … again.

In the world in which everyone is deemed criminal, the army is trained to go in guns blazing, tear gas canisters and incendiary bombs flying. Don’t worry. The State will or won’t pay. Children will continue to disappear, sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’. It’s all part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: Alejandro Amado, http://subversiones.org) (Photo Credit: sopitas.com)

The Mymensingh and Khayelitsha “stampedes” were planned massacres of women

In this 2011 file photo, women mourn over their relative who died in a stampede triggered by a fire scare at a garment factory in Dhaka.

In the past two weeks, “stampedes” took the lives of at least 33 people, 31 women and two children, in South Africa and Bangladesh. Yet again, the death toll among adults was exclusively, 100% women, and yet again the world will look on the pile of women’s corpses in shock and amazement, as we did in September 2009, when women were killed in stampedes in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and South Africa; or in January 2012 when women were killed in stampedes in Pakistan and South Africa. Each time, despite the gender of the dead and of the event, the fact of this being an assault on women is erased.

Today, in the northern Bangladeshi city, Mymensingh, hundreds of “poor and emaciated” women gathered outside a garment factory owner’s home to pick up free clothing. Someone fell, others fell, and then the rush ensued. Thus far, 25 bodies have been recovered, 23 women, two children. Fifty women have been sent to hospital. A scan of the world’s headlines on this event shows one headline that acknowledges this salient gender feature: “Bangladesh stampede leaves 22 women and child dead”. The rest either cite a number – “Stampede at Bangladesh clothes handout kills 23” – or refer to the clothes giveaway – “23 Zakat cloth seekers killed in Mymensingh stampede” – or mention people – “25 People Killed in Bangladesh Stampede”. Only one, that I’ve found, acknowledges the women. Why? What is so terrifying about saying 23, or however many, women were killed?

In Khayelitsha, in South Africa, two weeks ago, a gunshot at Osi’s Tavern provoked a rush from the tavern. It was 3 in the morning, and the tavern was crowded. It had only one exit, one staircase. The staircase collapsed. Six women were killed on the spot. Two women were killed on their to hospital. The women’s ages ranged from 15 and 23.

In some ways, two seemingly different events end up with the same morbid mathematics of gender: women were killed.

There was no stampede in Mymensingh today, and there was no stampede in Khayelitsha last month. There was a massacre of women. Say it. Women were killed. Now the State steps in, once the women’s corpses have piled up sufficiently, and claims to act, but it will never acknowledge the simple truth. There was no accident. There was indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of women, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.

 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

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)

Garissa: There must be more than grief

 


Garissa. There must be more than reports of smoke and explosions and flying bullets and destruction and carnage. There must be more than `eye witness accounts’ and there must be more than smart analyses of why Kenya, why now.

There must be other than agony and tales of hiding and emergence, of atrocity. There must be more than parades of corpses and mournful gatherings at funerals and memorials. The work of mourning must build a better road, because the road to Garissa is one of violence, and not only by those who attacked the university this week.

As in the aftermath of the assault on the Westgate Mall, the world performs mourning, and world leaders and their messengers claim `We all stand with,’ and now will say, “Je suis Kenya.” It’s not true. We do not mourn, and we are not Kenya. We watch a spectacle of grief at a distance, as a distance, and, with the Kenyan government, deny that Garissa is a station on a highway built by all of us. We do not study our own responsibility in the bloodshed.

From the beginning of the “Somali adventure”, Kenyan artists in particular warned that all Kenyans would pay. The Kenyan poet Shailja Patel has provided a road map to Garissa. It begins in 1962, when Somali-Northeast votes to join Somalia. It passes through one massacre after another, and through one invasion of Somalia after another, and through one unheeded warning after another.

The road to Garissa does not end at Garissa. It merely pauses, here, in Shailja Patel’s poem, in the morning after a massacre

Garissa

the morning after a massacre
a country wakes nauseous

no food stays down
no chai comforts

on the roads
they drag crosses

blood is given
blood invoked
blood sanctified
blood is our national language

on TV the men
talk blood and markets

tears
stay out of the newsrooms

there will be more killing
there will always be
more killing

a state will punish survivors
with pogroms

an army will terrorize
the terrorized, traumatize
the traumatized

the merchants of war
have already moved on
to the next transaction

the death-profiteers spent the night
reviewing cost-benefit reports

a country stares at its amputation stumps
the morning after a massacre

There must be more to life than grief, more killing, and the worldwide collective acceptance of reports of smoke and carnage and loss in the distance.

 

(Image Credit: The New Inquiry)

Outrage: The dirty, filthy Soma massacre

 

A mine exploded in Soma yesterday. Close to 300 miners are now dead. The world media sees this as tragedy, disaster, accident. Prime Minister Erdogan sees it as just one of those “ordinary things.” It’s mining, and shit happens.

No!

Across the country, through the haze of grief and sorrow, Turks are compelled by outrage and fury. They know. “This is not an accident, this is murder.” “We will not refer to it as an accident, we will call what happened a massacre.”

The ways of murdering miners are many. In this instance, it’s the crime of looking the other way, of refusing to inspect. For 19 years, Turkey has refused to sign the International Labor Organization’s No.176 “Security and Health in Mines Agreement”. The agreement places many responsibilities on the government and the employers. For 19 years of deteriorating mine conditions, the Turkish government said, “This can wait.”

Last year, a parliamentarian from the Republican People’s Party submitted a motion to investigate work-related accidents at the coalmines in Soma. All three opposition parties supported the proposal. However, the Justice and Development Party, Erdogan’s party, opposed the motion. Two weeks ago, it was rejected.

They knew the mine was a powder keg set to explode. But what are a few hundred miners in the big equation? And now, the keening women of Soma join the incandescent women of Marikana, in song and sorrow: “The love of my life is gone.”

There was no accident, disaster or tragedy. Instead, there was murder and massacre, and it was dirty and filthy. And there is outrage.

 

(Photo Credit 1: CNN) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Uriel Sinai)

A specter haunts the festive shopping season

 

Tomorrow, November 24, will mark seven months since the Rana Plaza collapsed, killing over a thousand garment workers, overwhelmingly women. Tomorrow, November 24, will also mark the one-year anniversary of the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in which over a hundred garment workers were killed. Almost all of those killed were women. These were not accidents but rather pieces of a plan in which the lives of women, of women workers, of Asian women workers count for less than nothing.

Today, a report notes that U.S. retailers have `declined’ to aid “factory victims in Bangladesh.” The phrase “factory victims” is both telling and apt. The women who died, often slowly and always terribly, were indeed victims of factory production. A year later, as inspectors and engineers begin for the first time ever to examine factory structures in Bangladesh, Wal-Mart, Sears, Children’s Place have “declined” to assist at all in any compensation or aid program for “factory victims”. In fact, as of yet, every U.S. retailer has “declined.” Corporations from elsewhere, such as the Anglo-Irish company Primark and the Dutch-German company C&A have been “deeply involved in getting long-term compensation funds off the ground.”

Across the globe, factory workers struggle with corporate exploitation. Factory workers in sectors, such as garment and textile, that are “reserved” for women workers struggle with super-exploitation. That is part of the tragic and the everyday of the garment industry. But this tale of “factory victims” is more particular. This is about U.S.-based corporate global development plans, in which women workers of color are not only worth less than the machines they work at. For Walmart, Sears, Children’s Place and their confreres, those women are worth less than the chairs on which they sit every day, producing goods and profits.

80% of Rana Plaza survivors are women. Now they find themselves in a situation more desperate than ever.”  That too is part of the plan. That were no accidents; there were massacres. Remember that on Monday, as we enter, again, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. Remember the specter of “factory victims’ that haunts the end-of-year shopping seasons.

(Photo Credit 1:  IndustriALL) (Photo Credit 2: IndustriALL)

Marikana: Don’t commemorate. Compensate.

It’s been a year, almost, since the massacre at Marikana, and the nation, and its media, are struggling, sort of, to find a way to address all that has, and even more has not, happened in the intervening year. A year later, tensions simmer, the Farlam Commission is more or less falling apart, some great and moving documentaries are beginning to emerge, and the widows of Marikana organize and wait, wait and organize.

This is how the week began. On Sunday, in a prayer service in Langa, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega announced that South Africa would `commemorate’ the Marikana tragedy. How exactly will the police, who used live ammunition to put down a mineworkers’ strike, `commemorate’ the event?

More to the point, is commemoration the best way to honor the dead miners and, even more, their survivors, the widows and children? As one widow explained, soon after the massacre, “Today I am called a widow and my children are called fatherless because of the police. I blame the mine, the police and the government because they are the ones who control the country.”

How will `the nation’ commemorate those who are now called widows and those who are now called fatherless? What happened on August 16, 2012? 34 miners were killed. Many others were wounded. And widows were made. Soon after one mineworker was arrested, police told him, “Right here we have made many widows … we have killed all these men.”

The State machinery, call it a factory, produced widows of women that day, and has continued to produce widows of those very women every single day since. So, here’s a suggestion. Rather than `commemorate’, compensate.

 

(Photo Credit: Greg Marinovich /Daily Maverick)

The Bangladesh factory fire was a massacre of women workers

On Sunday, November 25, 2012, Bangladesh suffered its worst-ever factory fire, at the Tazreen Fashions factory. At last count, 123 workers died. By all accounts, the workers were all or almost all women. Nothing here was new. Bangladesh has 4500 garment factories. The garment industry in Bangladesh employs more than 3 million people. Most of them are women. Many of them have died in `industrial accidents’.

There was no accident.

And now, less than two weeks later, the `discoveries’ begin. Today’s breaking news is the factory had no safety certificate. No one thought it did. Exit doors were locked. We knew that. Managers wouldn’t let workers leave until the flames were obvious, until it was too late. We `learned’ this week that Wal Mart actively blocked, or nixed, safety moves in Bangladesh, including in Tazreen Fashions factory. Are you surprised? Neither am I. The news is not that Wal Mart stopped a move towards worker safety, but rather than now the documents proving it have been made public as have the Wal Mart receipts left on Tazreen’s burnt floors. All of this has undermined Wal Mart’s account and credibility. Who believed Wal Mart in the first place? Who believes Wal Mart now?

Who believes the fashion industry when it claims shock and dismay? Who believes The New York Times or any other news outlet when they only now `discover’ a “gap in safety for local brands”?

Investigative reporting is important, as is research. So is accountability, including accountability in tone and diction. There was no accident, there was no gap, there was no absence, and there is no surprise. Call the event by its proper name: massacre. “An indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people”, specifically of women. And the factory was no factory. It was a slaughterhouse. It always was, and we cannot claim to be surprised when the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies explode … again.

(Photo Credit: TheDailyStar.net)