Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011: Fukushima Apocalypse and Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Centennial

It all comes together under the Supermoon. The Earth moves, the sea rushes in,and in the moment, the evolutionary genius of man, that splits the atom, that wars, and forgives and conquers, turns upon us with a terrible fury. At the same time that the Japanese people struggle with the destruction of the Northeast section of their country, here in the States we wrestle with the economic tigers unleashed by the glories of advanced capitalism, and that leads many to think that it is the workers, and those who are subject to the business and corporate interests that are the problem. So there is a drumbeat, to distract and allow the financial prestidigitators to perform their magic, and the hue and cry is picked up by the ideologues at some tabloids and the Whig media, and those who are struggling and see America as only a dream of wealth and dominance, and not a land of humanity and possibility, conjoin their anger and frustration with the wealthy who in fact view them as useful tools and not as allies in their struggle to fight off the already waning influence of regulation, unions and social welfare.

So it is fascinating that 2011 also represents the centennial anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire which took the lives of 146 workers,mostly young immigrant women, and galvanized a movement for social justice.


The world keeps turning in 2011,the revolutionary spirit at large in the Arab world , the anti-union, anti-public sector fervor, generated by the sad afterglow of greed gone bad.



The story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is a story well worth retelling as a means of understanddng how many of the protections that we enjoy as members of the larger working class-- and which are being whittled away in not so subtle ways  in the 21st century were prompted by the exploitation of immigrant workers in the early 20th century. And these are messages -i i terms of regulation and worker welfare -- that are resonant as the fires still burn north of Tokyo.

On March 25, 1911, a catastrophic fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. Trapped inside the upper floors of a ten-story building, 146 workers – mostly young immigrant women and teenage girls – were burned alive or forced to jump to their deaths to escape an inferno that consumed the factory in just 18 minutes. It was the worst disaster at a workplace in New York State until 9/11.


The tragedy changed the course of history, paving the way for government to represent working people, not just business, for the first time, and helped an emerging American middle class to live the American Dream.

There is an excellent exhibit at the NYU Grey Gallery -- which is essentially on the same block and around the corner from the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. History, ephemera, and current art based on the Triangle story are all here.

These and other NYU activities commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory here

In addition, this Monday, March 21st HBO Documentary Films presents TRIANGLE: REMEMBERING THE FIRE on HBO at 9:00p.m. The premiere marks the 100th anniversary of The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire that began the modern labor movement.

 
See the trailer here -


 
 In addition, the Remember the Triangle Fire coalition has a number of educational and political activities scheduled in the coming week around a response to the fire in the context of current efforts to curtail regulation, collective bargaining and workers rights. Details here

America  led the way in protecting workers rights, health and welfare. As technology becomes more complex and advanced., and the wider economy becomes almost a matter of Riding the Tiger, this is clearly not the time to turn back the clock.

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