I don’t remember when it was that I first found out about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I know for sure it was in the last several months. It was news to me that something so terrible could have happened and yet I’m not surprised. It sickens me to think that the lives of those who were lost in this struggle for workers’ rights will be forgotten. It seems a cruel way to honor their memory as we dismantle so much of what got all of us to where we are.
There are days lately where I wonder if perhaps the last 100 years or so was nothing more than a short reprieve from business as usual, but perhaps this was always what those in power envisioned happening – that union organizing and collective bargaining would be temporary. If they were patient enough they could return the balance of power back into their hands. In Maine they’re going to paint over a mural of labor history. In Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio they’re working to eliminate collective bargaining rights. In Michigan and Wisconsin they’re shifting power away from townships, municipalities, and cities to the state. In Missouri they’re talking about effectively eliminating child labor laws (the bill is “dead” now, but for how long?). What will be left?
I listen to the few who rally against these sorts of measures and the common theme in essence seems to be “Why should I care about you?” And I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to understand where another has come from. Is there really no empathy left in our world?
For more on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, I highly recommend the American Experience piece.
For more on how the spirit of 1911 might apply today: