Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wisconsin Labor vs. the Triangle Fire

I think of labor rights and unionizing as a Jewish issue as well as an American issue. Today I read an op-ed in the Forward that makes that point. It begins:

"It’s a remarkable coincidence that the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire follows so closely on the heels of the great Wisconsin labor awakening. Like the yearly coincidence of Purim and St. Patrick’s Day, with their overlapping themes of national redemption and drunken revelry, the Wisconsin-Triangle convergence raises a host of fundamental questions about the nature of our society and the mutual obligations of individual and community."

"Here are a few: Has a century of progress made unions and collective bargaining obsolete? Is it really progress when we eliminate workplace disasters by eliminating workplaces? Can we say we’ve learned the lessons of the Triangle tragedy if half of us have learned that rich and poor alike deserve equal access to health care and parental leave, while the other half want to bring back the good old days when workers knew their place and owners were free to run their businesses as they wished without interference from pesky regulators and unions?"

The commemorations of the Triangle Fire, where 100 years ago yesterday 146 young women workers died because they were locked in a dangerous workplace, are reminding people (including me) that labor rights have been a humanitarian and ethical issue for a long time. We seem to be regressing. Maybe workplace safety -- the main issue highlighted by the tragic fire -- continues to receive a commitment even from the worst of the Wisconsin, Ohio, and other Tea Party governors. (Maybe not?) But the right to fair wages and above all the right to bargain, once thought established, is eroding fast.

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