Triangle Shirtwaist fire

From the Wikipedia:

“The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent immigrant Jewish and Italian women aged sixteen to twenty-three.[1][2][3] Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors.”

Back in 1911 worker deaths were a common occurrence. But it took something this horrific for people to become conscious of just how bad worker conditions were, thereby prompting workers’ rights legislation. It’s an odd coincidence that the 100th anniversary of this avoidable tragedy is occurring exactly when some political forces in the U.S. are pushing hard to roll back the last century of workers’ rights.

It should be obvious that the U.S. only became a wealthy nation when it finally closed the gap between workers and consumers. Whenever workers are enfranchised to work for their own economic benefit — and the economic benefit of their children — then greater wealth accrues to the nation itself. The workers become the consumers of the goods they produce, which creates a vastly larger market than the small sliver of customers available in an economic oligarchy.

It has been one hundred years since that terrible fire enabled our nation to see that workers are not some vague other, but ourselves. Now newly elected members of congress are pushing hard to move us back to those dark days. Do people who support this movement actually believe, should such an effort succeed, that they themselves will be part of the small sliver of society that will still be able to afford the goods and services most of us now take for granted?

Something to ponder when worker’s rights have been eliminated, the economic engine of our consumer society has been crippled, and we find ourselves living in a poor third world nation, thinking back fondly to those vanished days when we could still afford the fruits of our own labor.

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