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Kader Industrial Doll Factory Fire ,Thailand

1993 May 10th. Thailand, near Bangkok: Fire in a doll factory injured 500 people, at least 188 died .The worst factory fire in history took place at the Kader Industrial toy factory on the outskirts of the Thai capital of Bangkok. Officially 188 workers, most of them young women from impoverished rural families, died in the blaze. Another 469 were injured; many seriously and permanently, after they were forced to leap from second, third and fourth floors of the buildings to avoid being burnt to death.

Hundreds of workers were packed into each of the three buildings that collapsed. There were no fire extinguishers, no alarms, no sprinkler systems and the elevated walkways between the buildings were either locked or used as storage areas. The buildings themselves were death traps, constructed from un-insulated steel girders that buckled and gave way in less than 15 minutes. Those who attempted to flee through the narrow ground floor exits found them jammed shut.

There were many reactions to this terrible tragedy. The international media barely mentioned the fire. Inside Thailand, however, there was widespread anger. The toy factory, owned by Thai, Hong Kong and Taiwanese investors, was symbolic of the exploitation associated with globalised production. Major toy corporations such as Tyco, Kenner and Arco faxed their orders to Kader, complete with the detailed specifications required to market the goods in the US and Europe. None of them had the slightest interest, however, in the safety standards, wages or conditions for the factory workers who produced the plastic-moulded toys.

The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) recognised the significance of the disaster and dispatched a reporting team to Thailand to investigate. A series of articles, which initially appeared in the newspapers of the ICFI and was later published as a book Industrial Inferno: The story of the Thai Toy Factory Fire, detailed the immediate causes of the fire, allowed survivors and the victims’ families to speak, and exposed the official cover-up and the inaction of various trade union leaders.

More fundamentally, the articles pointed to the underlying changes in world capitalist economy that made such tragedies inevitable. The previous worst industrial fire—at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York in 1911—became the focus for struggles by working people that succeeded in placing limited restraints on the operations of capital. But under conditions where globally mobile investors were not tied to a particular country, let alone to one factory, the prospects for such piecemeal reform had become nil.

“Companies such as Kader Holdings need to move their operations rapidly to take advantage of the newest areas of low-cost labour. That it why the Kader factory outside Bangkok was never intended to be a permanent structure. Cheap shoddy buildings, which failed to meet even the minimal Thai construction requirements, were simply packed to overflowing with workers and machines. Elementary safety precautions were deemed to be unnecessary overheads.

“Thailand’s limited building and safety codes, minimal wage levels and factory regulations are not enforced. Indeed, the government in Thailand attracts foreign capital to its shores by openly advertising the lack of restrictions on the exploitation of workers. The Kader factory was no aberration. All the horrors of nineteenth century European capitalism—child labour, dirty and unsafe working conditions, shanty housing—are on display everywhere in Bangkok.”

In contrast to those often well-meaning groups and individuals in Thailand and elsewhere who argued that it was necessary to pressure governments for change, the ICFI concluded that the working class could only make advances to the extent that it grounded its struggles on a global perspective aimed at abolishing the capitalist system of exploitation.

“In semi-colonial countries such as Thailand, the working class has no hope of gradually improving its conditions, as was the case in the United States, following the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911. From the outset, the hundreds of thousands of peasant youth drawn from the poverty-stricken regions of Thailand to labour in the factories of Bangkok face the necessity of developing a unified strategy with workers in neighbouring Indochina, China and around the globe.”

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