Tag Archives: Triangle Shirtwaist Company

Celebrating the Much Despised Labor Day

5 Sep

Labor DaySince the Reagan era, we seem to have surrendered to what I would term an irrational, inexorable disdain for the laborer. Labor Day seems to have become a hollow holiday for some without a sense of history. Let us remember why it is important to celebrate and elevate the laborer. This is a time for us to reflect and look at how we value human beings; how we look at and address income disparities; how we address and look at people who are over-employed!

Yes, over-employed, those who have to work more than one job and still remain in poverty, while CEOs and those who enjoy being in the top echelon of corporations and organizations earn exponentially more than those who actually allow those organizations to sustain themselves. According to the Economic Policy Institute and Fortune, many top executives make over 300 times that of their employees, many of whom live at or below the poverty line. Yes, CEOs earn 20 times more than they did 20 years ago and 30 times more than they did 30 years ago. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “In between 1978 and 2014, inflation adjusted CEO pay increased by 1000%,” while the typical worker has only seen a possible 11% increase in that same time frame. That 11% means workers are now either earning the same as they earned in 1978 or even less, allowing executives to earn so much money that it is next to impossible to chart.

We saw the architecture of this with Ronald Reagan, who did his best to bust unions. You remember the union, the reason why we have a little something called a “weekend,” and an 8 hour workday, and protections against the exploitation of children workers. Unions: the reason  we hope to never witness another tragedy like the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

Just a little history about Labor Day. Labor Day was started in 1882 by labor unions, but it would be many more years before it would be recognized as a Federal Holiday. Oregon was the first state to recognize and honor Labor Day in 1887.  Finally in 1894, under the Cleveland administration, it became a national holiday on the first Monday in September.  Congress passed it unanimously, a very rare event indeed. Today we have an opportunity to reflect on why we need to celebrate the laborer and to look at the maldistribution of wealth in the United States. It’s particularly important to note how Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan show nothing but contempt, disdain, and even disgust for the laborer.

Many of us have been working in movements to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. This would be just a very small move forward and still does not address a living wage. Sadly, the common theme from Trump and Ryan and their ilk — remember, they aren’t as different as they’d like you to believe —  has been nothing less than hostile. They all seem to subscribe to the false notion of a meritocracy. Our current Republican controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted against the equal pay act — the same people who want to throw out the Affordable Care Act and witness millions suddenly going without health care. All the while ALL of those in our congress have Cadillac insurance packages and earn a minimum of $174,000. Yes, you read that number correctly. Please watch this very short video of the maldistribution of wealth in the United States.

Labor Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend or a chance to grill an extra burger before autumn sets in. It’s a chance to reflect on the work that is done at all levels of our society and the value of all that labor. It’s a chance to celebrate the collaboration that makes work better and working conditions safer. In the words of the great Joe Hill (as sung by Billy Bragg)

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who’ll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackeys out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child

There is power in a Union.

Happy Labor Day to all who have to work today and that have no pension, no health benefits, and are at the poverty line. We must stand in solidarity!

Women’s History: April 6

6 Apr

Happy Birthday, Rose Schneiderman

Happy Birthday, Rose Schneiderman.  As we wait to see if Wisconsin Justice Prosser will be re-elected, I wanted to celebrate Schneiderman.  Schneiderman was best known as a social reformer, suffragist,  and she founded the Jewish Socialist United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers’ Union.  Schneiderman’s response to the tragic deaths at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company serves as a harbinger as to what can happen if we strip away bargaining rights and render unions eunuchs:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and poverty is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

How sad that we don’t seem to have learned the necessary lessons from history and how germane Schneiderman’s words are today. RECALL.

Celebrating Women’s History Month: March 25

25 Mar

Honoring The Women Who Lost Their Lives

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to all the women that lost their lives (close to 150) at Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire on March 25, 1911–the 100th anniversary today. Most of the victims were Jewish and Italian immigrants earning no more than $6. a week. The managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits, forcing women to jump to their deaths.  (Note to Scott Walker, workers need bargaining power.) The fire did lead to legislation requiring improved factory safety and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. When fire engines finally started to arrive at the site, women were jumping to their deaths, making it difficult for the fire trucks to navigate the road. To make matters worse, the stream of water from their hoses would only reach as far as the 7th floor.  To learn more about this tragic fire, click here.

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