Udita: the women garment workers standing up for themselves

Tansy Hoskins takes a look at Udita, the new film from acclaimed documentary makers Rainbow Collective about female garment workers in Bangladesh

May 15, 2015
4 min read

aleyaAn engrossing biography of resistance against repression, Udita is a mosaic of stories from an industry characterised by exploitation and industrial homicide.

In 2013 the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 1,134 workers and leaving 2,500 seriously injured. Udita’s story tellers are the women of such factories – the women who work 14 hour shifts and whose children call them ‘aunty’ because they are cared for by their grandmothers, the union activists living alone in slums, and the leaders of factory strikes. In an industry 85-90% staffed by women, Udita serves as testimony to the strength and bravery of women under fire.

Five years of visits to Dhaka’s garment factories provided directors Hannan Majid and Richard York with a remarkable array of footage. This film offers a timeline of an industry in overdrive: halfway through the film the camera pans upwards, revealing an endless production line of workers stitching labels onto jumpers.

A highlight of Udita (Arise) is its understanding and portrayal of self-determination. Most people who report on the garment industry fall into the trap of supplanting their own story for that of garment workers, turning the narrative into one about the guilt and agency of ‘consumers’ in the ‘West’. All too often garment workers are cast as helpless victims in need of saving and it is very rare to encounter the viewpoint of union organisers in Dhaka. Thankfully Udita avoids this approach completely and instead portrays what is happening on the ground and, most importantly, why it is happening.

Udita is released free to watch and share on Youtube.

Udita’s difficult stories of trauma and loss are sensitively handled. Viewers cannot avoid the message that conditions are extremely bad in the industry and no one will be able to forget Razia Begum’s story of losing two daughters and a son in law to Rana Plaza, nor of the horrors of the Tazreen factory fire as described by Shohibita Rani. Yet this film is also one of hope because people are standing up for themselves. Things are changing because women, like the inspirational Ratna Miah, are working long days on garment assembly lines and then going to union offices to learn about their rights and to plan demonstrations, strikes and the reinstatement of sacked colleagues. They are doing this despite the risk of being intimidated, beaten and sacked by factory thugs.

This insight into grassroots resistance is a key strength for this film and a big reason why it deserves to be widely viewed. Those wanting to work for change in the garment industry, to prevent another Rana Plaza, need to identify where change is already happening and help to apply pressure. In Bangladesh this means supporting union organisations like the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF). The film’s beautifully shot protest footage gives a sense of the size of the industrial struggle that is taking place, huge demonstrations march through Dhaka: a sea of shouted slogans, red flags and saris.

Towards the end of the film we meet Aleya Atta poised in a warehouse with what can only be described as an army of workers who are about to join an NGWF demonstration. With 30 years of factory work behind her, Aleya is a deeply inspiring woman who has made educating women about their rights and unionising factories her life’s work. The women she is with describe how their boss locked the factory gates having not paid them for two months: ‘We protested outside the factory, then we marched to the owner’s house,’ one woman says. ‘After that he paid us one of the months’ pay.’

These workers, like the wider movement, have formed a powerful group, determined to keep protesting and get what they are owed even if it means breaking the locks on the factory. ‘For 30 years the factory has ripped us off. Our eyes were closed, we understood nothing… now our eyes are open, we’re standing up for ourselves. We are all one. Friends of the world, unite as one!’

Udita is inspiring on a global level, the stories these women share with us are life lessons about why the world needs to change, and how it is to be done.

Tansy E. Hoskins is the author of Stitched Up – The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


359