The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire 100 Years Later - Why Organized Labor Remains Relevant (Even if in Need of Reform)
Tomorrow, March 25th, marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I have provided links that give reports, historical overviews, and narrative accounts of this event. It is relevant, and eminently noteworthy, that the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist are viewed in a modern context as having run a “sweatshop”. However, in a contemporary setting, the girls at work on Greene Street were employed in a common setting, earning a low wage and happy to get even that.
In the early 1900s, many considered the Triangle Shirtwaist Company one of the more modern New York workplaces, despite being overcrowded and lacking an evacuation plan in the event of a fire.Employers were not motivated, by law or market logic, to ensure a safe and humane working environment and provide a living wage.
Market exigencies have not changed in 100 years. The lowest cost provider makes the most profit. What has changed is labor law and the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively for salary and safety. These laws and rights should not be mistaken for the imperfect nature of unions. Unions - in my opinion - are in great need of reform in order to meet the needs of the modern workforce, and to improve self-policing of their shop stewards, union reps and management. But it is imperative not to fall into the trap being set by certain politicians today, that would have us believe that the government (of all entities, for crying out loud) is somehow fit to be charged with safeguarding workers’ rights and controlling the purse, at the same time. Not only are these interests often in conflict, we are being asked to believe that government is somehow less rife with corruption, conflicts of interest, graft and nepotism than the unions. That somehow, education dollars will be better and more efficiently disbursed if control rests solely with government. Do you believe this to be true? This writer (as a resident of New York State), certainly does not.
The powerful few who control local, state and federal government need to be counterbalanced by organizations in the workforce and, on a grassroots level, in every important arena of public interest.
Take the time to at least glance at the articles linked below.
a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Factory. Within 18 minutes, 146 people were dead as a result of the fire.