Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - And The Importance of Oversight

Gentle readers, your MatchGirl would like to take a moment and talk about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Friday, March 25th, marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy - the largest industrial disaster in the history of New York - in which 146 people died - mostly women and, in reality, children.

I would like to take a moment to remember that tragedy and to talk about the important strides for worker's rights and labor unions that arose from the fire.
With all that has been happening in the past few years - recession, job loss, fucked up economy, unemployment and underemployment - your MatchGirl thinks it's important to take pause and think about the workers who sacrificed so much to ensure that we could have fair working condition. With states like Wisconsin taking steps to make sure that collective bargaining and worker's rights will go away and Congressional Republicans promising to cut funding for OSHA, it's time to take a moment to think about what unions have done for us. And how they can help under served workers in the future.

Unions, of course, dear readers, are different then they were in the wake of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. They are different than they were when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975. And maybe the union, as we know it, is no longer necessary. But there is a place for oversight. There is a place for organization. There is a place for worker protection.

Employers, as a rule (save those with amazing company culture), place economic growth and profits ahead of the welfare of their workers. In 1911, that welfare was about cramped working conditions, long hours and fair wages. In 2011, it's about substandard oversight of oil rigs and mines. It's about teacher's, educating this country's next generation of leaders, getting paid, on average, less than your neighborhood babysitter. It's about people desperately looking for jobs only to see the only things listed are unpaid or underpaid internships - where the "employer" wants full time work and a long list of qualifications, but refuses to pay for the experience.

Your MatchGirl doesn't have the answer, gentle readers, but she sees the problems. And while we may not have the same kind of need (in this country, anyway) for labor unions that we used to, we still need something.

Until that time comes, let's make sure to look out for each other, gentle ones. It's the least we can do.

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