Sunday, March 25, 2012

Who sewed the clothes you wear?

"And never meet the man whose name is on the label"


Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City


American workers have turned their backs on Unions over the last 30 years, but work protections such as the 40 hour work week, the paid vacations, the sick days, the medical insurance many workers take for granted is because of the work and the deaths of people who fought for these workers rights.


 Over the last 30 years, so many US workers have forgotten what the workplace used to look like. One of the most horrible workplace disasters was  the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory fire on March 25, 1911.
 Located in Manhattan, the fire killed 145 workers. The owners of the factory, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had a history of suspicious fires in the Triangle. It was a fairly common practice to burn your business to collect insurance payments.

The Triangle was the classic sweatshop. It employed 600 young, often teenage women, in a very cramped space. They were mostly  immigrant workers, with little English. Does this sound familiar?
Blanck and Harris paid the women as little as possible, and worked them for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The women earned only  $15 a week, despite working 12 hours a day, every day, about 85 hours a week

When the International Ladies Garment Workers Union led a strike in 1909 demanding all things we now take for granted such as a livable wage, higher pay and work hours that are humane the Triangle owners hired police to beat the Union women, and to arrest them.

Much like today, Blanck and Harris paid off politicians to pretend the Union women were criminals, and that the working women were to blame for not getting out sooner when the fire struck.
Blanck and Harris were tried on manslaughter charges but went free.

What was the cost of living in the early 1900's?  The Wright Brothers had just flown the first plane, and William Howard Taft was the president.

shirtwaist and factory pics from here, here, here,


written by James Taylor, for the play, Working, based on the book by Studs Terkel.
Now my grandfather was a sailor
He blew in off the water
My father was a farmer
And i, his only daughter
Took up with a no good millworking man
From massachusetts
Who died from too much whiskey
And leaves me these three faces to feed

Millwork ain’t easy
Millwork ain’t hard
Millwork it ain’t nothing
But an awful boring job
I’m waiting for a daydream
To take me through the morning
And put me in my coffee break
Where I can have a sandwich
And remember

Then it’s me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
For the rest of the afternoon
And the rest of my life

Now my mind begins to wander
To the days back on the farm
I can see my father smiling at me
Swinging on his arm
I can hear my granddad’s stories
Of the storms out on lake eerie
Where vessels and cargos and fortunes
And sailors’ lives were lost

Yes, but it’s my life has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool
I can ride home in the evening
Staring at my hands
Swearing by my sorrow that a young girl
Ought to stand a better chance

So may I work the mills just as long as I am able
And never meet the man whose name is on the label

It's me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
And the rest of the afternoon
Gone for the rest of my life