Triangle: Remembering the Fire
We are living in the Regressive Era.
One hundred years ago, in the Progressive Era, government and business were committed to making life better for American workers. It was a given that each generation would enjoy higher wages, a shorter work week, and better job conditions than their parents.
Today, in the Regressive Era, government and business are colluding to ensure that the American worker remains poor and powerless.
Wall Street demands that corporations must always make more money than last year in order to be considered successful. And since it’s hard to sell more product, they take the easy route and cut expenses. Workers don’t get raises.
The generous people who run our country demonstrate their love for the downtrodden of the world by making them feel welcome in the United States. Hahaha. Just kidding, of course.
If you think that our immigration laws were written by humanitarians, you have been bamboozled. Our open border policy was crafted by influential business leaders for the sole purpose of keeping your wages low.
An American can’t demand a raise because her employer knows that there are five people who just entered the country on a work visa who would be delighted to do the same job for less.
And if a group of American workers organized, unionized, and used their right to strike like they used to, the corporation would be delighted. The company was looking for an excuse to move the office to Bangladesh, anyway.
In 1911, garment laborers in New York probably felt as powerless as workers do now.
The Triangle fire dramatically called out the selfishness of American business owners.
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of a 10-floor Manhattan office building. The top three floors were taken up by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
The HBO documentary “Triangle: Remembering the Fire” explains what happened that afternoon, in vivid and upsetting detail.
The people on the 8th floor were able to evacuate. They called the owners of the company — who worked on the 10th floor — and they were able to get to the roof and over to a nearby building.
No one remembered to call the 9th floor, where hundreds of women and teenage girls were sewing.
By nightfall, 146 workers were killed. When the heat of the fire became too painful, people began jumping out the window in front the shocked crowd below.
The disturbing sight of dozens of young women lying in pieces on the New York street inspired immediate reform.
In a wonderfully short time, New York City forced business owners to install sprinkler systems in the workplace and building owners to build fire escapes outside. These safety reforms spread around the country; and there hasn’t been a workplace disaster like it ever since.
Here in 2016, we need a new Progressive Era. The time has come for a sweeping reform of the way multi-national corporations do business.
1. We should incentivize companies to share more profits with their employees. If GE gives a 5% wage increase to every worker, the government should lower the company’s tax rate that year by 5%.
2. Washington should impose devastating fines on corporations that move jobs overseas and significant tariffs on imported goods.
Just as importantly, there should be mandatory warning labels — like the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes — that makes it clear that the product you are buying was not made in the United States. It should be something extreme, like a fat corporate boss in a suit burning the Stars and Stripes with his cigar while stamping on the neck of an emaciated American worker.
3. We need to have mercy on the American working class and close the borders entirely for a generation. The United States allowed very few immigrants from 1924 to 1965. And, inevitably, wages shot up and income inequality plummeted during those years. The only way to give our workers bargaining power is to reduce the size of the labor force.
The great thing about America is that we have the brains and the know-how to accomplish amazing things when we are motivated. I have faith that we will put an end to the Regressive Era and help the underpaid underclass in our society sometime soon. I just hope it doesn’t take a catastrophe like the Triangle fire to finally push us to do it.