Workers and Students

Workers and Students

The most important political organ among Bangladeshi workers in the late 1980s was the Workers-Employees United Council (Sramik Karmachari Oikkiya Parishad), an organization of sixteen workers' federations composed of two factions that represented almost the entire labor front. When the Workers-Employees United Council decided to act, it could paralyze urban areas throughout the country. In May 1984, the government avoided a major confrontation by agreeing to several points set forth by the council, including a call for no further privatization of industry or banks, freedom of labor union activities, and a 30-percent raise in the minimum wage. When the government later reneged on some of these points, a council-led general strike occurred in November 1984, which led to government repression. Further strikes in 1987 were coordinated with anti-Ershad opposition parties. The council developed a platform calling for restrictions on the import of luxury goods, land reform, and government support for handicraft industries.

The universities have also been a major proving ground for political parties since the student protests that led to the war of independence. Beginning with major riots in 1983, universities during the Ershad regime were the site of repeated antigovernment demonstrations and government repression. The Central Students Action Committee, a coalition of student political groups, coordinated a number of political actions in support of the opposition's demands, which culminated in a series of general strikes in 1987. During the Siege of Dhaka, from November 10 to 12, the government closed the University of Dhaka, and it shut down all education institutions in the country later in the month during continuing unrest. Because the major parties--including the Jatiyo Party and its Jatiyo Chhatro Samaj--had student wings, there were often violent confrontations on college and university campuses between rival party members. Gun battles broke out in June 1987 between the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's Chhatro Dal (Students Party) and the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (Inu)'s Students League over control of dormitories. Periodic closings of universities after demonstrations or political riots often kept institutions shut down for a good part of the year during the late 1980s.


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