March 25th was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 in NYC. The fire started on the ninth floor. Fire truck ladders could only reach the sixth floor. One-hundred and forty-six young girls and a few boys died either within the factory or from jumping out windows. The door that was not engulfed in flames was locked, as the owners said, to deter theft. At the trial it came out theft amounted to $15 -$20. They also wanted to keep union organizers out.
These were the same girls who in 1909 organized for better working conditions and better wages. They were beaten and arrested. At the time of the fire most wages were $0.14 per hr. Adjusted for inflation that would be $3.18 today. The aftermath of the fire was public outrage and new laws to protect workers.
Fast forward to Dec. 14, 2010. In Bangladesh a fire in the Humming clothing factory took 29 lives and injured over 100. They, too, were locked in. These workers had protested for higher wages and were clubbed and beaten. They wanted a raise to $0.35 per hr instead of $0.28. In 1911 it was $0.14, adjusted for inflation what the Bangladesh workers wanted amounted to 1/10 of the rate of 1911. The owners of that sweatshop also own the TV and newspapers so the news was suppressed. There was no investigation and the owners claimed “worker sabotage.” The product at that factory — GAP children’s shorts that sell for $26.
In related news on this issue, Gov. LePage of Maine wants to destroy a wall mural depicting the state’s labor history. It includes pictures of the 1937 Shoe Mill strike, “Rosie the Riveter” who worked at the Bath Iron Works and Frances Perkins who witnessed the Triangle fire and went on to become Sec. of Labor under Roosevelt. The mural is in the state labor dept. building. Gov. LePage stated that the mural was “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.”
In a speech in 1936, President Roosevelt stated, “We now know that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mobs.” Yes, that was 1936! Do the billionaires who control this country think that we, the people, are not taking note as they try to strip workers of their long fought for rights? Google Frances Perkins and find out what she accomplished for worker rights. A book to read would be “The Woman Behind the New Deal” by Kristen Downey. Stand up and take action with your voice, your money and your vote as the workers in Wisconsin are doing.
Joan Palmroos — Otto, N.C.