Our Nation’s history provides a perspective of the struggles Americans have gone through to “form a more perfect union.” Our appreciation of history has a tendency to fade over time, but sometimes important occurences seem to have been blatantly deleted from the record. At a time when corporate controlled Republicans are dominating our nation, avoiding certain areas of history is a valuable tactic. Republicans know that it would be a lot harder to stuff our nation into a political time machine and send us back a hundred years if we remembered the value of historic movements.
March 25th marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the deadly fire at New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist factory where 146 of our American brothers and sisters perished due to a system of greed and negligence. At that time, there were no government regulations to enforce building codes that would have saved lives. At this factory, they didn’t have a fire and sprinkler system, stairways were only two feet wide, and the fire safety doors were locked shut. The safety protections we take for granted were not available, and people died.
This factory was basically a sweatshop where women were forced to work seven days a week with meager pay in unsanitary working conditions. Many of the 500 women working at this sweatshop were minors. By today’s standards, these working conditions are unknown here in America and are only pondered in the context of a third world country. This history provides a prime example of how powerless workers are without collective bargaining. If these women had been unionized, they would have been able to fight for better pay and safer working conditions.
This fire happened at a time when the Gilded Age was meeting the Progressive Era. Many of the women who perished were on the picket lines weeks earlier only to be defeated and sent back to their sweatshops. This tragedy caused a public outcry with over 100,000 people who took to the streets to protest not only the horrendous workplace practices at factories like Triangle, but also the corporate domination of our country. This gave birth to workers rights that as we know them today and took years of blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen.
The fruition of the fight to provide workers rights came twenty-two years later when Franklin Roosevelt, who was the sitting governor of New York at the time of the fire, became our nation’s president. He appointed a firebrand labor activist and the first female Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, to help lead the charge. She served this post for twelve years and helped formulate the Social Security Act, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, and legislation that provided workers the right of collective bargaining.
Republicans seeking protection for the corporations need you to forget your history. Tragedy and sacrifice like this should never be forgotten. We should always honor the sacrifices made by the women of the Triangle fire and millions of others who have fought to achieve an American standard for its working people.
In searching for justice we must always consider what is best for the masses and what is best for the powerful few. We can’t sit idle at a time when we are facing a level of corporate domination that we haven’t seen since the Triangle fire. Get involved. Get up and fight back!
Posted By Valerie Garner