Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Capitalism goes unchecked....A lesson in History

Originally posted in the WSWS, this is a lesson we all can understand. Never forget that the want of money can lead many people to the disregard of others. This is again happening. Unions are why you have your children in school and not working beside you in the factory or fish house. They are why you have a forty hour work week and some safety in the workplace. Much suffering and many deaths were caused by those that profited from the toil and sweat of the workers. Route out the infiltrators in the unions , take back the union for the worker and support others when they need it.

100 years ago: Triangle fire kills 146 in New York City

Triangle fireTenth floor of Asch building after Triangle fire

On March 25, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, which was located on the eight, ninth, and tenth, and eleventh floors of the Asch building in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. Before the blaze could be brought under control 146 garment workers died, most of them Jewish and Italian girls and young women.

The disaster, one of the worst in the history of US industry, illustrated in the most horrific fashion the brutality of American capitalism. The women, whose wages were not enough to support a family and were typically handed over to parents, worked in appalling conditions.

Their workplace was littered with the flammable cotton refuse used to make shirtwaists          (women’s blouses). To control “worker theft,” factory owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris had factory doors locked from the outside; in the aftermath of the fire, charred bodies were found grouped together around these still-locked doors. The fire department of New York, the largest and most advanced city in the US, had no means of reaching the women screaming for help from the high rise factory. This resulted in dozens of women jumping to their deaths to avoid the flames.

A court acquitted Blanck and Harris of all wrong-doing that year, and a later civil settlement resulted in just $75 payment to the families of each dead worker. Taking into account a sizable insurance settlement, the owners actually gained money as a result of the tragedy.

It is often claimed that the Triangle fire encouraged the advance of reform in the US, and especially in New York. While this is undoubtedly true, the main impetus to reform was the threat posed by the growing militancy and radicalism of the workers. The garment industry was home to some of the first large industrial unions in the US. One of these, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, had in 1909 been at the head of the “Uprising of the 20,000,” largely immigrant garment workers in New York City. At the same time, socialism was exerting a profound and growing influence among New York’s immigrant workers.

For many more photos go to Cornell University


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="366" caption="Fire fighters arrived at the Asch Building soon after the alarm was sounded but ladders only reached the sixth floor and the high pressure pumps of the day could not raise the water pressure needed to extinguish the flames on the highest floors of the ten-story building. In this fireproof factory, 146 young men, women, and children lost their lives, and many others were seriously injured. Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911"][/caption]

A police officer and others with the broken bodies of Triangle fire victims at their feet, look up in shock at workers poised to jump from the upper floors of the burning Asch Building. The anguish and gruesome deaths of workers was witnessed firsthand by many people living or walking near the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place. Others read about it in the many newspaper reports circulated during the following days and weeks, bringing the conditions of garment worker into public scrutiny as it had been during the shirtwaist strike of 1909. Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="650" caption="After the Triangle factory fire was extinguished, broken bodies, hoses, buckets, and debris around the building testify to the extent of the struggle and the scale of the tragedy. Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911 "][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="650" caption="International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 25 began the strike with $10 in their treasury. A special edition of the city's Socialist paper, The New York Call, told the story of the strike in English, Italian and Yiddish. Copies were donated to local 25 by the publisher and sold by union members to raise money for strike expenses. Photographer: unknown, December 1909"]International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 25 began the strike with $10 in their treasury. A special edition of the city's Socialist paper, The New York Call, told the story of the strike in English, Italian and Yiddish. Copies were donated to local 25 by the publisher and sold by union members to raise money for strike expenses. Photographer: unknown, December 1909[/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="605" caption="Shirtwaist strikers march in snowy streets, often without warm clothes or sturdy shoes. Photographer: unknown, ca. 1910 "][/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="650" caption="Women who were arrested on the picket lines and sent to Blackwell’s Island wear “Workhouse Prisoner” signs claiming their service with pride, and were cheered by other strikers and supporters. Photographer: unknown, ca. 1910 "][/caption]

Is it wrong to want food for your family? Is it wrong to want a roof over your head? A warm dry place for your children to rest?  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Then and now it is a fight! Never let the mind of the oppressors rest.


  1. "Unions are why you have your children in school and not working beside you..." In Canada Unions are not why they have children in school and not working beside them. Canada has enforceable labor laws and it's illegal to have kids out of school, they also have truancy officers. There are no teachers unions in Canada and they pump out a higher grade of education.

  2. This is interesting. We too have truancy officers,every police officer. But Canada did not always have child labour laws.
    ¨Opportunities for paid employment broadened for the minority of children not in school. From the mid-19th century Canada began to undergo industrialization and urbanization. As the proportion of urban residents grew from about 17% at Confederation in 1867 to over one-third by 1901 and almost one-half by 1921, new jobs for children became available in Montréal textile mills, Hamilton businesses, Cape Breton and BC mines, and small manufacturing enterprises in the Maritimes. At the end of the 19th century, approximately 70% of Canadians lived in rural communities. While the number of children 10-14 years old employed in agriculture dropped from 62 700 in 1891 to 5400 in 1911, the total otherwise gainfully employed, primarily in business and industry, actually expanded from 13 000 to about 20 000.

    Many jobs were "dead end": poorly paid, menial positions without any opportunity for advancement. Some positions, such as those of messenger boy and newspaper vendor, did not lead to adult employment. Moreover, most children holding jobs came from working-class backgrounds and were of special concern to middle-class reformers intent on improving Canadian society. As well as supporting compulsory schooling and measures to combat juvenile delinquency, reformers sought to ban child labour. Although the first provincial legislation regulating child labour in factories and mines had been passed in the 1870s and 1880s, the prohibition of child labour came only in the new century. ¨ Child Labour http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0001577
    When Canadian children were free to attend school in the early 20th century, British children were brought in for ¨humanitarian ¨ reasons ¨Almost all were apprenticed to rural families and in general became child labourers rather than adopted children. ¨ http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/
    Canada also has a teachers union ....¨
    Founded in 1920, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) is a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent nearly 200,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada. CTF is also a member of the international body of teachers, Education International (www.ei-ie.org).¨
    As for the higher grade of education, why then are the Canadian ministers trying to tie teachers to merit pay like the US? If there is not a problem why try to ´fix´ one? Seems like it is another step toward privatizing schools in Canada just like corporations would like done here.

  3. In Canada, education does not fall within the scope of federal jurisdiction – it is the singular responsibility of each province or territory. Under the British North America Act of 1867, each province and territory has the power to establish its own autonomous education system and to make all decisions regarding schools, teachers and curriculum pertaining to education within the specific province/territory. http://www.ctf-fce.ca/TIC/Default.aspx?SID=625889

    Evolution in industry accounts for something too...more is known today about workplace safety and hazards. Even today, there are fires in high-rises where people get trapped - all is still not perfect. Most Corporations pay competitive wages and compensation, learning that attracting skill and talent improves their bottom line. As far as child labor goes, some children are willing to work to get spending money, having a menial workmarket is essential, who cares if there were advancement opportunities?

    Privatization for schools is not a bad idea...it would compel competition, allowing the cream to rise to the top, participating in a natural reward system. Even in a voucher system, educators and facilities would find a way to become the best they could be.

    Welfare is not inspirational.

    How hard would you try if your pay was the same no matter what you did? Is inefficiency considered broken to you? Does a system have to be broken before improvements can be made?

  4. Is this what is meant by competitive wage? Example Nike pay; Indonesian workers make $2.46 a day, Vietnamese workers make $l.60 a day, Chinese workers make $1.75 a day all with forced overtime and hazards that are not acceptable. All is not perfect to be sure , the Union Carbide incident in India is still denied by the company. And it is STILL not cleaned up 25 years later. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Bhopal_disaster Or maybe it was the easy idea of ¨spending money¨ and ¨menial market¨ that came from the ILO´s End Child Labour project that have the numbers at 200+ million children at work. http://mediavoicesforchildren.org/?p=6033
    Yes , well fare is inspirational. Just ask any out of work family that can now put food on the table while looking for employment. Or the family who had their home foreclosed on and does not have to live in their car. Civilization is judged by how it cares for the weakest members.“It is poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”Mother Teresa
    I believe food,shelter, and clean water are rights not privileges. I am not driven by money but by a desire to do good for my creator.

  5. I was talking about the US job market, but those are competitive wages if they are in line with the cost of living. One of the perks of setting up shop in a third world country is the lower wages because the cost of living is so much reduced than it is here. Some of the owness has to come from the leadership of the countries that have massive poverty. Much has to do with corruption of government officials and it should be up to the citizens of each country to hold their officials accountable, as it is our duty to do it here.

    Why would anybody think they could solve hunger when charity only lines the pockets of those that are in a position to steal it? I'm against forced child labor; I think it's a morality problem also. Look at the hundreds of billions of dollars sent to Haiti and nothing has been rebuilt.

    Welfare issued by government creates a downward spiral of dependence, there's a big difference between a hand-up and hand-outs. Read this case in point by John Stossel Regarding an Indian tribe that didn't qualify for the government handouts,
    "We shouldn't take it!" says Lumbee Ben Chavis, another successful businessman. Chavis says not getting any handouts is what makes his tribe successful, and if the federal money starts coming, members of his tribe "are going to become welfare cases. It's going to stifle creativity. We don’t need the government giving us handouts."

    Read more: http://stossel.blogs.foxbusiness.com/2011/03/25/freeloading-doesnt-help-the-freeloaders/#ixzz1JSGIvBT8

    It should be in our hearts to take care of the weak and poor in our respective communities, if some people do more for than others...so be it. There would be a great deal more help if they weren't mandated to and took a personal interest in others. The help coming from neighbors would have a great deal more transparency and less corruption. Perhaps people busy with their own lives just need communication that others need help (perhaps that's the fix).

  6. Stossel didn't re-write Native American history, and he did interview other tribes. Is Leonard Peltier a political prisoner or did he kill two FBI Agents? Although, Stossel does say, "I'm a freeloader" - I highly doubt it was in the same context as you have alluded to. If your statement, "making a living off the backs of others" is anti-capitalism, it would mean that every manufacturer and business owner that has something to market is guilty of the same thing.

    I prefer to laud the efforts of entrepreneurs because they are the employers of the world who gives poor people jobs.

    Communication isn't Socialism but what Chavez is doing absolutely is. After he's alienated the business community, the unions etc., he has little choice but to exploit the poor, he needs some sort of support for his rigged elections. If you're aligning with Chavez, you're against the USA. I also find it amusing that Venezuela is a source, destination and transit country for human trafficking of sexual exploitation and forced labor (tier 2 and tier 3) under Chavez's dictatorship. See - http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2010/

    Even Nancy Pelosi has called Chavez a thug. I have no idea why you would want to hand all your rights and liberties to the government and have government control everything in your life, is it a misguided effort? Is it not corruption and immorality that should really be addressed? How would you expect to fight for any of your beliefs after giving up your rights?


Impressions from friends, thanks.