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Shirt-Wasted

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and while a cake with one hundred burning candles might seem inappropriate, some have found a better way to commemorate this tragic loss of shirtwaist material: dismantling the labor movement it spurred. Happy Anniversary!

In March of 1911 under working conditions a Siberian Gulag survivor would object to, before being beaten with a rusty shovel, 146 mostly young women, teenage girls, Jewish and Italian immigrants, died in a fire because their escape route had been locked to prevent workers from slipping away with valuable scraps of fabric during coffee breaks they didn’t have.

In fairness to Triangle’s proprietors, Isaac Harris, a Russian immigrant, and Max Blanck, born with an unnecessary “c” in his name, they were just protecting their status as greedy factory owners. While paying their workers thirteen cents an hour for a thirteen-hour day, they were earning one million dollars a year; a stolen shirtwaist here and there and pretty soon they’d be earning less than two thousand times as much as they paid their typical worker, and would have to cut down on luxuries, like shirtwaists. They even charged their workers for electricity and docked their pay for needles used, along the way earning the title “Shirtwaist Kings,” which played better in New York’s social circles than the more accurate “Greedy Soulless Pricks.”

But the gruesome aftermath of charred dead bodies littering New York’s tony streets forced state and federal governments that had refused to regulate industry to finally intervene, leading to unprecedented reform, including safety standards, minimum wages, limited hours, child labor laws and recognition of workers’ rights—you know, “job killers!” Yet all this meddlesome safety and fairness somehow failed to slow the booming wealth of American industrialists.

And here we are one hundred years later, lessons learned… rolling back worker gains, defanging already toothless unions by eliminating their right to collectively bargain, and attacking luxurious municipal pension plans, after looting them to invest in toxic securities and magic beans. Republican legislators “voted” to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, and a similar Republican-sponsored bill is pending in Indiana. Not to be outdone, Democrats have their own union-busting proposal on the table in Massachusetts, just to show that they can be assholes too.

Even the NFL has gotten into the act, locking out players rather than reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. And who could blame them? Under the onerous terms of their current agreement, thrity-two owners divvy up their first billion dollars in earnings before having to share 60 percent of anything above that with players. What the owners want: two billion dollars to split before the players get theirs... which works out to a pay cut of about six hundred million dollars. Even Harris and Blanck would think, Wow, these guys are assholes.

The Triangle workers themselves would be pretty appalled if they were alive today, not to mention incredibly old, to witness a workplace remarkably unchanged except for annoying cell phone use: there’s the same gleeful union-busting, disdain for government regulation, and familiar hatred for immigrants who came to this country and took those jobs Americans want, like dying in a factory fire for eight bucks a week. And while women no longer have to pay for their needles (except addicts in needle-exchange programs defunded by the GOP), one hundred years later they still earn only about 80-percent of what their male counterparts get for doing the same job but with testicles.

So on the one-hundredth anniversary of one of the most significant turning points in American labor history, we honor not the workers whose deaths shocked us into mandatory cigarette breaks, but the entrepreneurial spirit of business owners who lock workers in and players out, with one final note: acquitted on manslaughter charges, Harris and Blanck subsequently lost a civil suit forcing them to pay compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. But by that time their insurance company had paid them about $60,000 more than their reported losses, or approximately $400 per casualty—a tidy 533 percent profit per dead worker.

Even NFL owners would think, Wow, those guys were assholes.

Click here to watch "BALLS," a video allegory of greedy pricks.

PREVIOUS/NEW POSTS:

The Return of the King

Putting the "I" in "Capitalism"

Very Poor Relations

Amazing Fantasy

Labor Contractions

Cry Uncle

Middle Fingered

Booth or Consequences

That Throbbing Pension Headache

Ooze of the Fishermen

Mad Tea Party

Recession Over! Sailors Kiss Nurses In Times Square!

Big 3 Stooges

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Disclaimer: This website is satirical in nature and naturally satirical.  Although many of the facts, figures, statistical information, and events both current and historical contained herein are true and accurate, "Eat The Poor" also contains elements of parody, including exaggeration and ridicule, regarding events, public figures, corporations, government institutions, and others we find deserving of unwanted attention.  No harm is intended to figures both public and private and/or institutions or corporate entities mentioned herein.
The use of the phrase "herein" herein is hereby acknowledged to be unnecessary and excessive.

A Modest Proposal for a film by Kurt Engfehr and Ken Pisani.
2006 Ken Pisani and Kurt Engfehr.  All rights reserved.
All "Blogging Poorly" posts  Ken Pisani.