Sunday, March 27, 2011

The day the New Deal began

March 25th was the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York, in which 146 young, mostly female garment workers were killed in an unsafe building that was a firetrap (and some of the exits had been locked). The March 19th Economist carries a short, remarkably sympathetic (given the venue) piece about it (at p.39 of the hard-copy edition). A commission set up to investigate the fire proposed broad reforms not only of safety laws, but also in the areas of child labor, wages and hours, etc. Many of these were adopted by New York city and state. The Economist recalls that Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor, had seen the fire and "she later called March 25th 1911 the day the New Deal began." The article continues:
Lee Adler, who teaches collective bargaining at Cornell University, sees parallels between the way the sweatshop owners treated their workers and how a few governors in the Midwest are treating civil servants these days. The comparison is perhaps farfetched [not really - LFC]. But the anniversary does remind America why unions were needed.
Were needed -- and still are.
P.s. The factory's owners were tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Details about the trial and a lot else can be found at the Wikipedia entry on the fire.
P.p.s. Krugman on the need to restore labor's bargaining power. [H/t: T. Burke]

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