Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that trapped and killed 146 workers, most of them young immigrant women, on the upper floors of a New York City sweatshop. It's a time to honor and mourn the Triangle's victims, commemorate the tragedy's importance as a turning point in the history of the American labor movement, and reaffirm the crucial role of unions and regulatory bodies in advancing worker rights. Both are taking a beating in America's 21st-century iteration of the Gilded Age, as industrialists (hello, Koch brothers) paired with the craven politicians who do their bidding (greetings, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Scott Brown, et al.), take another pass at ridding our country of all those nasty laws that protect consumers and workers, and cut into their bottom line.Go read the whole thing.
It was unions -- led by the International Ladies' Garment Workers (now Workers United) in league with the Women's Trade Union League -- that began harnessing public outrage in the wake of the fire to demand the regulations regarding worker health, well-being, and safety that protect many workers to this day, whether or not they belong to a union. Think workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, the 40-hour workweek, weekends, holidays, sick pay, employee benefits, and safety standards.
...And then think about how dangerously close America is to turning its back on Triangle's legacy because of this past decade's (mostly) Republican and corporate-led assault on regulatory bodies and policies. This is the very time when workers most need protection: As our country's recession deepens, unions have been eviscerated, and jobholders and job seekers have become more desperate. As one Harvard Business School lecturer memorably said about Harley Davidson's happy discovery that reducing the number of employees has actually contributed to soaring profits, "Because of high unemployment, management is using its leverage to get more hours out of workers."
Yet the public seems increasingly to hate, envy, and blame unions and unionized workers.
Posted by Melissa McEwan at Thursday, March 24, 2011
Nancy Goldstein's got a great piece in The American Prospect, "Preserving the Triangle Factory Fire's Lessons, 100 Years Later." An excerpt: