Burning up workers
For some reason (maybe my browser has been left behind?), I can still post here only in html, which is time-consuming; that’s why I switched to a new wordpress site of the same title, Politics: A View from West Chester. If you are following me at this tumblr site, please start doing so at the new site!
I did want to post this one here, because it continues and updates a post here last year. So….
When a society undergoes disasters, it can learn and change, or not. Our society isn’t so good a changing, at least not for the better, any more. Last year, I learned that the movement to honor “International Women’s Day” (every March 8 since 1911) was given impetus by the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which I had just written about.
Labor reforms followed the fire and the US labor movement began its growth that, in the private sector, was turned back in the 1980s. In Pakistan, on September 12, 2012, almost twice as many workers died under similar circumstances. As on March 25, 1911, the doors were locked or blocked.
The Guardian (UK) comes right to the point in its 9/14/12 article “Karachi’s factory fire exposes Pakistan’s lax health and safety regime.” The article begins:
Under pressure from wealthy industrialists putting profits over worker safety, labour inspections are on the slide in Pakistan
The death toll from the fire that ripped through a Karachi garment factory this week currently stands at 289, making it the largest number of casualties in a single industrial incident in Pakistan’s history. Later, a fire at an illegal shoe factory in Lahore killed 25, bringing the total of Pakistani deaths in industrial incidents that day to more than 300. As the country mourns the enormous loss of life, attention is turning to lax labour laws and the culture of corruption that allows the scant regulations that do exist to be flouted.
The facts of the Karachi fire are nightmarish. After the Karachi blaze started, workers were said to be unable to escape because the doors were locked….
Will Pakistan make needed reforms and apply workplace safety laws? Read the Guardian article mentioned above plus the earlier “Details of Karachi fire emerge amid criticism of Pakistan’s workplaces” and you’ll be dubious. After all, profits must be made, and there is international competition to worry about.
Eighty years after the 1911 fire, a similar disaster happened in the US. According to Wikipedia, “Hamlet chicken processing plant fire” (see original for links and footnotes):
The Hamlet food processing plant fire was an industrial fire in Hamlet, North Carolina, at the Imperial Foods processing plant on September 3, 1991, due to a failure in a hydraulic line. Twenty-five were killed and 54 injured in the fire, trapped behind locked fire doors. In 11 years of operation, the plant had never received a safety inspection. Investigators believe a safety inspection might have prevented the disaster….
A federal investigation was launched, which resulted in the owners receiving a 20-year prison sentence. The company received the highest fine in the history of North Carolina. As a result, the state passed several worker safety laws. Survivors and victims’ families accused the fire service and city of Hamlet of racism, leading to two monuments to the tragedy being erected. The plant was never reopened….
So, it took 80 years and a similar loss of life for the lesson of 191i to be learned and applied in North Carolina. Today, although always under pressure, protections do exist for workers in the US. We often hear of lapses and disasters that cost lives, particularly in coal mines, though China seems to have the the worst record in that industry.
What is there about early September? Of course, one thinks of 9/11/01. All I can say is, the US took action, although I don’t think it was the right action and 11 years later, in the hostility of much of the Arab and Muslim world, we are seeing the results of the action we took.
One can’t help noting that the 146 workers who died in the New York fire, 101 years ago now, were almost all women immigrants, half teenagers, the 1991 victims were largely African American, and the victims in Pakistan were paid little for hard and, it turns out, dangerous work. Political implications, anyone?
Other sorts of disasters (decline of the middle class, mortgage foreclosures, homelessness, malnutrition…) affect us today and as I held last week in “The Lord of the Flies and US political life,” our gridlocked government isn’t doing much better than those shipwrecked boys. Political implications, anyone?
Look back to my 3/1/11 Triangle Factory post here.