Business, cricketdiane, guilds, Human Rights, OSHA, protecting human life, Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire March 1911 - 2011 one hundred year anniversary, unions, US govt. protections for workers, workers safety, workers' rights, working environments, workplace safety
146 workers died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire 100 years ago – the owners had barred exits to keep the women and children who worked there from taking breaks or leaving which caused nearly all who were in inside working there to be killed.
It resulted to changes in the law about workers, about building codes and is one of the great foundation stones of the American unions. In Europe, guilds had offered some collective protections for workers and in the US business owners had nothing to stop them from treating workers in any way they might choose – for over a hundred years.
As much as business owners and pro-business conservatives believe that if no regulations exist, businesses will protect their workers – the truth is simply not that. Human history has shown over and over again, that business and corporate organizations need the insistence of the laws and the power of unions in order to balance what their nature is to do – which is to take undue advantage of workers, to take undue and unreasonable risks with the lives of workers and to value workers’ health and well-being far lower than the immediate focus on cutting corners and making profits.
There is truly nothing wrong with doing both, making profits and protecting the health and well-being of workers. But, it is much like the rules of the road which had to be made law for anyone to abide by them – the stop sign had to mean “stop”, the red light had to legally mean to “stop” and the use of an agreed upon direction for lanes of the road to go in the same direction had to be made.
I don’t know why any human being, business owner or not, would have to be told by law to keep the doors unlocked and unhindered during business hours, to mark exits, to keep areas in front of exits clear and to have reasonably accessible emergency exits from work areas for people working there to get out of the building. But, when not forced to do those things, they simply did not do them and would not do them.
Rose Schneiderman, a prominent socialist and union activist, gave a speech at the memorial meeting held in the Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911, to an audience largely made up of the members of the Women’s Trade Union League. She used the fire as an argument for factory workers to organize and not rely on the “good people of the public….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….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.”