Friday, March 25, 2005

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire March 25, 1911

Anyone remember 8th Grade Social Studies? My teacher droned about labor rights that came into force during the Industrial Revolution. People, mostly immigrants, women and children worked in what we would consider dangerous today. No safety rails, protective gear, no bathroom breaks, long hours, and so on. One day, the teacher mentioned an industry in New York City, called the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. A fire had spread throughout the building. Doors were locked, elevators not functioning, and some staircases weren't properly maintained.. Our class saw a film clip of young women throwing themselves from the flaming factory only to be splattered onto the sidewalks below. My class was riveted and feeling relieved that we re in a school, not in a factory 100 years ago.

Congress woke up and put labor laws into motion. Around the same time, Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" attracted controversy about Chicago's meat industry, most particularly about an unfortunate worker meeting his demise.

I'm a member of my labor union..I pay my dues each month. I should be more appreciative of the union origins. Last action I took was for health insurance stuff. The perks included development workshops and self defense.

Labor Unions doesn't seem to be much nowadays - more about benefits. They would agree to certain conditions for a certain time. The next group or generations of workers would be usually screwed with longer hours or lousy benefits to appease the hiring company. I don't recall hearing any resounding victory from the labor side. Last I remember the Queens bus line went on strike a month ago or so, leaving commuters to take other transportation options. Lasted for a week or so (I admit I wasn't too concerned because I don't live in Queens) - conditions were met and the bus drivers went back to work. The commuters commute.

Some companies see Labor Unions as an interference for progress or growth. Naturally the company would pull up stakes and move to another countries for cheaper and disposable workers. The companies seek higher profits and revenues. Wal-Mart's solution is to bar workers to unionize and offer part time work to avoid benefits. Companies lay off workers and give executives higher pay raises. A lace factory located near my hometown upstate finally closed after some private and state labor battles and relocated to Mexico. Most of the former employees spent their unemployment drinking beer and shooting deer.

I'm no student of Labor Union.. Any comments? Agreements? Voices of dissent?


Blogger S said...

Unions - a sticky concept today. It has been refined gradually over time and partly due to social changes.

While I am all gung-ho for the concept of an ideal union helping us fight for workers past, present, and future, I admit that I cringe sometimes when I hear the word "union." The meaning and roles of unions these days have changed since the heydays when unions were more active and successful in terms of improving working conditions during the "jungle days" of the Industrial Revolution era.

My question is - how can Unions today adapt and evolve successfully to the social, economic and political climate of today's Society?

3/26/2005 11:03 AM  
Blogger Wildstarryskies said...

I think one problem with Unions lately is red tape- they've become as complex as the bureauracies they used to fight against.

I'm an member of the UFT- United Federation of Teachers- the NY State union. Those guys have manuals that run a few hundred pages! To file a complaint, you have to go through a whole hierachy, submit paperwork and everything.

I'm not knocking UFT- they're a very strong union, and my benefits ROCK. But it takes a lot of initative and hard work to get trhough the system!

3/29/2005 8:34 PM  
Blogger breenie said...

It's wonderful that you have benefits etc etc but I've seen teachers abuse their tenure.. mostly burnt out. is there a mechanism that would have provided resources or tools to keep the tenure in check?

3/30/2005 10:44 AM  
Blogger Wildstarryskies said...

Yes, there IS a mechanism. But it's very complicated for the schools too. The superindent/principal have to go through a process, too. Unfortunately, the teacher involved has a right to appeal to infinity, so nobody wins those things.

I do agree that more accountability should be taken for teachers. However, what this "accountability" means, and how a teacher would be evaluated is another matter. For instance, the Bush adm's idea of "accountability" are state test scores. Myself, including probably 99.9% of the teachers out there find this type of "accountability" to be very dangerous.

When you start making teachers even more responsible, that means you have to impose a set of beliefs, a political agenda on them. What should be this political agenda be? What is most fair?

You can see how complex this issue!

3/31/2005 11:59 PM  

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