The Triangle Fire Goes Global

trianglefireOn March 25, 1911 a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory where 146 workers died. The company had blocked the exits and the stairwells so employees couldn't leave or take a break. As the fire spread, workers were trapped and the only escape was to jump ten stories to their deaths. The outrage sparked reforms and unionization for U.S. garment workers.

Over 100 years later on November 24th, 2012 the exact same thing happened. Workers burned alive and jumping to their deaths has gone global. In a history repeats itself Déjà vu, we've outsourced our history of worker exploitation and lack of safe work environments along with American jobs. Once again, fire escape routes were locked by managers and workers couldn't escape the flames. In Bangladesh 112 people were killed in a garment factory fire.

The flames at the Tazreen Fashions factory outside Dhaka spread rapidly on the ground floor, trapping those on the higher floors of the nine-story building. There were no exterior fire escapes, according to officials, and many died after jumping from upper floors to escape the flames.

As firemen continued to remove bodies Sunday, officials said at least 112 people had died but that the number of fatalities could go higher.

bangaldesh fire
According to ABC news, over 700 people have died in Bangladesh garment factory fires in the last five years. These garment factories make clothes for multinational corporations who in turn sell us their cheap imported goods. These used to be American jobs. Companies that sell to Walmart, Sears and other U.S. retailers offshore outsourced clothing manufacturing to countries where there are no safety standards, workers have no rights and wages are so low people can barely afford rice. It's 1911 for Bangladesh as the United States races to the bottom on cheap prices and cheap labor.

Charred multinational corporate clothing labels were discovered in the burnt out garment factory of Bangladesh proving Tazreen Fashions is just another sweat shop for the international clothing industry.

They say they found labels for Faded Glory, a Wal-Mart private label, along with labels they said traced back to Sears and a clothing company owned by music impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs.

The fires aren't isolated to Bangladesh either. Another top outsourcing destination for clothing, Pakistan, had a fire in September that killed 315 people. There are also reports of murder and torture against workers fighting for safety and rights.

Unpaid wages. Abusive bosses. Mr. Islam, a labor organizer, fought for their rights. Security forces found Mr. Islam, too. His phone was tapped, the police regularly harassed him, and domestic intelligence agents once abducted and beat him, his co-workers and family say. More than once, he was told his advocacy for workers was hurting a country where garment exports drive the domestic economy.

And then no one could find Mr. Islam.

He disappeared April 4. Days later, his family discovered that he had been tortured and killed.

Abuses where managers lock fire exits also happened in the United States in 1991. But for Bangladesh and Pakistan, that 20¢ an hour wage plus non-existent worker safety or unions has U.S. retailers flocking to these countries in droves. The race is on to provide the ultimate sweat shop slave labor for the garment industry. Statisticians tout the exports and the millions of workers per nation. Never mentioned are the real costs of those cheap clothes to workers around the globe including the United States.

The people of Bangladesh took to the streets in protest over this latest completely avoidable tragedy.

Garment workers staged mass protests Monday to demand the end to "deathtrap" labour conditions after Bangladesh's worst-ever textile factory fire, as a new blaze sparked fresh panic and terror.

Ahead of the first of a series of mass funerals for the 110 victims, survivors of Saturday night's blaze joined several thousand colleagues to block a highway and march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia.

"Workers from several factories have left work and joined the protest. They want exemplary punishment for Tazreen's owners," said Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman, referring to a plant near the capital where the blaze broke out late Saturday.

Police said Ashulia's more than 500 factories who make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco declared a wild-cat "holiday", fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.

"Most workers are in shock. They want to see safety improvements to these deathtrap factories," Babul Akter, head of a garment union.

The problem is the people of Bangladesh have protested many times and the garment factories re-open, nothing changes and more people die. This is the situation with multinational corporations hunting the globe for the cheapest labor. If one country does something to protect workers, prosecute corporate crime or raise wages, the soulless multinationals simply pick up stakes and move production to another nation where officials will let them do whatever they want, including getting away with murder.

The Clean Clothes Campaign is trying to bring awareness that multinational corporations are behind such inexcusable abuses of global workers. This is a Valiant effort yet as long as corporations are allowed to hunt the globe for cheap exploitable labor with impunity, we doubt much will change.

Below is American Experience's documentary on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factor Fire. Unfortunately this is not our history anymore, it is our future.

 

 

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Absolutely, but foreign countries will tolerate more longer

Ultimately the bosses in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire escaped real responsibility. However, the photos, eyewitness accounts, public outrage, labor organizations, etc. forced the hand of businesses and politicians to protect the workers and helped improve fire safety for other people as well. We all enjoy the benefits today. End result, more regulations, better protections, better conditions for workers, and still items of value being produced. The same thing can be said for any industry in the US, it wasn't just garments. Coal, steel, drivers/truckers, airlines, the rails, road and bridge construction, timber, shipping and passenger ferries, etc. Think of all the accidents that have happened in many industries that might have been prevented or lessons were learned from, and how businesses and govt. worked together (or were forced to change) to help protect lives. Industries didn't shut down, people weren't fired because there was no work. Rather, work continued with safer conditions. Management still made its money back, workers could save a little or a lot while working in good jobs across every industry, and everyone was happy (or at least happier and safer).

Now, we hear the cry of no regulations. All regulations are bad. And if the paid-for-politicians don't cut all regulations and safety laws so that immigrant women from Europe can jump to their deaths or face burning alive and possibly work for free as interns for the honor, then we'll just move operations to some other country. Isn't that Norquist's dream? Does he attend memorial services and anniversaries at the Triangle Shirtwaist to spout that noise or would that be too unseemly even for him? We see it now in coal mines overseas, sweatshop conditions making crap and suicide nets needed to prevent workers suicides, garment fires happening repeatedly, building collapses overseas, oil spills and massive oil-related corruption in parts of Africa (which spur locals to form groups that aren't considered polite, but want justice and oil $ themselves). And on and on. In fact, we even see some industrial accidents still happening here where people go on Fox, spout their dogma, say they need less regulation, and then following an accident, it turns out those same people were cooking the books.

Now many of these countries are completely corrupt (or just more corrupt than the US), and in some cases, lack a viable govt. However, outrages and exploitation cannot continue indefinitely. Local politicians must face either angry mobs in the hundreds of thousands of their own citizens (which often means facing death) or blame foreign interests. And when the foreign interests based here or elsewhere can't take anymore, they will pack up and move operations. Eventually, they will wind up in some country where they can completely control the govt. and armed force. Perhaps they can compel anyone that speaks up to go to prison and then work for them for free as inmates. Even Sweden's IKEA was busted for using political prisoners in the 1980s in East Germany to make products for them -so it's not out of the question. Utopia? Not really, but some CEOs are salivating right now over the thought.

And some "thinktanks," "academics," lobbyists, and politicians are going to put this plan down in writing, pass it off as good for everyone, and then enjoy champagne lunches while dreaming of their own Utopian future. Of course for these people, reading "The Jungle," anything by Steinbeck, or Twain, or Dickens, or Founding Fathers that were nervous about large corporations is forbidden because that sounds alot like "liberal arts material" and that's bad. Don't read about The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or the General Slocum or other horrors that forced laws and regulations to change in the US for everyone's benefit. Don't read thorough histories of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Edison, and others that cover the good and bad. Just because someone built libraries and donated millions doesn't mean they are idols. Just don't let the residents of said-Utopia find out first about the new Utopia. They might have something to say.

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work is under attack

We know the wet dream of many is to return to 1896 USA, where there was no personal income tax, worker exploitation went unchallenged and business had a steady flood of cheap exploitable labor from unfettered immigration. The streets were paved with gold for the ruthless.

The problem today is corporations can play nation-states off of each other. I believe it was Tonelson who coined the phrase "race to the bottom" and he has been oh so right.

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Just so you know, they were demonstrating at Triangle long

before the fire. About 2 years b4 the fire several thousand walked out, and to their surprise they were joined by tens of thousands other garment workers also protesting conditions, a culmination of previous labor struggles.

I am not so sure the deaths of those workers would have meant as much without all their previous sacrifice and struggle (there were a lot of horrendous industrial accidents back then, both here and around the world, most of which you have to go look up in a newspaper, not a Wiki article).

Just to say that we can't forget the need to organize and teach, then leverage that work into change...

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Treat CEOs like parachute riggers - random jobs in own factories

Let's start treating these CEOs like we should expect them to behave. Parachute riggers have to make jumps with random chutes that they themselves pack. Talk about an incentive to stay sharp 24/7 and trusting your own work because others must trust it all the time. So, CEOs, if you outsource work or directly supervise a factory, don't trust some bogus inspectors that only get paid if they say you are the greatest CEO ever and Foxconn is a paradise. Don't try to pawn off responsibility because you hired a contractor that hired a sub that hired a sub that hired a sub that's incorporated on a ship that stays in international waters. No, be proud of your title, earn your big bucks, show Truman that the "buck stops here." Work in one of your factories (again, you benefit from the products made in the factory, it's YOURS, no matter how you try to cloud the issue). Hey, fire breaks out the week you work there, oh well, try to escape the flames. Local bosses beat the crap out of you with a baton because you're not producing during your 18 hour shift, well, STFU, lest you catch another hit to your head (it hurts, doesn't it)? Are you talking to someone on the floor? You must be a union organizer, prepare to get fired and have your family become homeless. Best hope the happy, happy people that love their $1/day wages don't identify you as the CEO, because if they aren't happy with the abuses and crimes they suffer, they might voice their opinion. Oh no, you don't understand Bengali or Urdu or Hindi or Mandarin or Spanish or Tagalog? Oh well, they'll get the message across somehow. Come on, work in factories at random, nothing to fear and it's paradise, right. Put your billions where your mouths are. No cameras, no security, nothing different. Just do it.

On the other hand, perhaps these CEOs want to subject themselves to criminal liability. Get sued and/or indicted overseas. Again, don't play the "sub of my sub of my sub of my contractor is guilty, not me" game. Don't run to the Department of Justice or Chamber of Commerce or White House or Department of State for help and lobbying and protection. No, that's not what big boys and girls do. You collect a big boy's paycheck, you take big boy responsibility. 100 people die in a fire because of hundreds of violations of work regulations and criminal laws, you are criminally responsible for manslaughter. If the violations are bad enough, depraved indifference murder. And don't fight the case in the US. The crime happened overseas and the victims' families are overseas. Go fight the case in an overseas court surrounded by angry family members and community members numbering in the tens of thousands. Your newest Lear Jet, or Neil Cavuto kissing your ass (aka "interviewing you"), or another Forbes article praising your greatness, or paying taxes on your vacation estate won't cross your mind. And if you get convicted and sentenced, don't expect to find a foreign prison equivalent to where Madoff is serving his time. You enjoy the fruits of outsourcing, enjoy the good, as well as the bad. Mingle, learn about the world you help create and make billions from.

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They already know

CEOs already know and have known for years. They know full well there are horrific working conditions, wages which one cannot buy rice on and barely buy enough lentils for sustenance, people packed like sardines in dorms, working 100 hrs a week and on and on. This has been going on since the 1980's and all they care about is selling a pair of pants for $5 bucks at 99% profit margins or iPhones for $600 with 80% profit margins (or whatever it is for an iPhone).

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Of course they know, so let them endure some justice

Just like someone that packed a faulty chute knows it's faulty, justice demands that he go ahead and jump with it just to show he really should care more about his work and/or the risks he places others in. They can know all they want and earn all the $ in the world for pretending they don't, but for justice + entertainment purposes, let the CEOs and their cronies work in their own factories, mines, fields, etc. and experience the reality they pretend doesn't exist but did everything within their power to create.

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Prosecute Wal-Mart officials - ongoing crimes here and abroad

Sounds more and more like these folks, you know, the "best and brightest," have an ongoing pattern of breaking the law, exactly what RICO is all about. Sure, they make money for the Walton family and the Walton family sure doesn't mind how that money is made, but along the way they hire people here in violation of US immigration laws through contractors to work in the US in many of their stores (Wal-Mart settled for $11 million), bribe Mexican officials, lock workers in overnight (how's that for endangering people's lives?), violate wage and hour laws, etc. And now this. So, this ongoing criminal conduct, which DOJ officials and Congressmen/Senators will speak out against these "job creators" or do their donations prohibit any honesty and integrity coming forth? Which Walton family members will go visit the victims' families in Bangladesh and other locations where these tragedies occur? Which corporate officials will go? Which ones will face prosecution here and overseas in courtrooms surrounded by angry families for their actions that lead to death and injuries? Or are these people going to hide once again when accountability is demanded and go lobby the DOJ and State Department and appear on TV and in the pages of the press to predictably say what a tragedy it is, that they "didn't know," that "it was all our contractors' fault," and other nonsense? Big enough to meet with politicians and fellow businessmen behind guarded gates and in fancy clubrooms, but not big enough to take the heat from regular folks? Exactly.

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