Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist fire
Here’s from a comment of the excellent Nation article:
All of the rhetoric about dirty theiving unions cannot stand the truth: Corporations will not police themselves when it comes to basic human rights, like the right to go to work and have a reasonable chance of not getting burned to death in a fire. As has been demonstrated over and over and over again, corporations will sacrifice worker’s and even consumer’s lives to profit.
And here is the article’s conclusion:
Given the enormous differences, politically, socially and culturally, between our time and the time of Triangle, it would be glib to draw specific lessons for today from the reformers who pulled some good from the ashes of the fire. But perhaps we can learn from their broad approach. The seemingly technical, incremental reforms that came in the aftermath of Triangle—requirements for sprinklers and fire drills and unlocked exit doors that open outward—were no more the result of modest thinking than the sweeping New Deal reforms like Social Security that came two decades later. Rather, they came out of a shared belief by socialists, unionists and even progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson that the society they lived in was fundamentally disordered, with institutions, rules and customs inappropriate for the needs of the people. The world needed reinventing. But if the spirit of revolution infused the air, so did the practical draw of social engineering and respect, grounded in daily experience, for the importance of even small changes in the conditions of work.
Today, the labor movement and progressives fight one dispiriting battle after another to defend wages, benefits, social programs and government protections from further dismemberment. Even the thrilling mobilization of labor and its allies in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana has remained, so far, defensive—necessary, but not enough even to win incremental advances. We live in a society that simply does not function for an ever-growing part of the population. It is too late to rally around restoring the status quo ante, an impossible and not particularly attractive ideal. Rather, like the social forces fused together by the flames at Triangle, we need to imagine a new way of being, a new set of customs and laws designed for our world of commoditization, financialization and globalization, which has brought so much wealth and so much misery—some new combination of regulation and self-organization. Only by recapturing the spirit of the reformers of a century ago, that the world belongs to us, to make right as we see fit, can we achieve even modest improvements in our daily reality.
For more on the Triangle travesty, see this.