Friday, March 25, 2011

Connect the dots

So, let me see if I've got this straight. 100 years ago today, in lower Manhattan, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire killed 146 people (a third of the people working in the building) who couldn't escape a ten-story factory because the owners, in an effort to prevent theft, had locked the exit doors.

Because there were no unions to protect their rights or ensure workplace safety, the employees who died were often underage, worked twelve to sixteen hour days, six days a week, and earned less than $2 a day.

Out of that two dollars, they had to pay the owners for the needles, thread and electricity they needed to do their jobs. And they could be fired for any reason, including missing a day of work or talking to the person working next to them. Or joining a union.

In fact, unions were under assault. Literally: with clubs, knives, guns and dogs - until a quarter of a century later, when the Wagner Act was passed, supporting unions and collective bargaining.

Oh, and 15 years before the fire, the National Guard was sent into the Homestead Steel Works to break up a strike by steelworkers. Just so you know.

But, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. That was 100 years ago today. Happy Birthday.

One hundred days ago today, in Bangladesh, a fire in a Bangladesh sweatshop killed dozens of people and injured over a hundred more. To prevent theft, the doors had been padlocked shut by the owners,

That was 100 days ago today.

The workers in Bangladesh are among the lowest-paid in the world, and frequently die because of workplace safety, which isn't enforced by anyone. Like, say, a union.

This was one of two manufacturing plants run by the Hameem Group, who makes clothing for the Gap, Wrangler, JC Penney, Target, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Osh Kosh B'Gosh.

Oshkosh B'Gosh. Founded in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1895. Three years after the Homestead Steel Strike.

Last month in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker was mobilizing the Wisconsin National Guard, in case unions protested his attempts to destroy collective bargaining rights. In the course of the next few weeks, that same Governor Walker, outraged because striking workers were occupying his Imperial Palace the Wisconsin State Capital Building, had doors locked and windows bolted shut to keep strikers from getting food.

Initial reports that the windows were welded shut proved to be merely rumors. There are, however, pictures of the new bolts preventing the windows from opening.

So, locking people inside a building with a sporadic record of safety inspections. Because he's trying to bust unions.

Quick test: what have we learned in the last century?
A. Jack.
B. Shit.

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