Friday, March 11, 2011

A short reminder on why we have unions

With all this business in Wisconsin and their union-busting governor, it's become quite popular amongst some to bitch about "the unions." For all of their faults, there are strong and compelling historic reasons for why unions exist.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911 caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, many who were trapped because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. The fire is often cited as a catalyst in shifting the public's sympathies in favor of labor reform.

PBS's American Experience series now has an excellent documentary entitled Triangle Fire that gives the background and events leading up to this tragedy. Watch it online and re-visit some of the rhetoric which is being bandied about these days by right-wing politicians (and I include Tea Partiers and self-styled libertarians in this group) and uber-rich business interests. They are making the same tired "private property" bullshit arguments the business criminals who locked the exits made a hundred years ago.

Full disclosure: I have never belonged to a union, nor do I desire to. I've seen unions do plenty of bone-headed things and make ridiculous demands. Just like the companies with whom they are negotiating. But I'm working a (nominal) five-day 40 hour work week because organized labor butted heads with company-hired thugs and goons years ago. I'm betting you are too.

Incidently, one of the unspoken reasons those same right-wing politicians and uber-rich business interests would love to de-fund PBS and NPR is because of broadcasts like Triangle Fire.

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