One hundred years ago, on March 25, 1911, 146 workers, mostly female, were killed in the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City, spurring the beginning of labor reforms.
Promotion of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and other unions moved ahead after this tragedy, and finally, in the 1930s under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, organized labor finally received recognition as an equal in collective bargaining.
By the 1960s and 1970s, about one third of all workers were in labor unions, and the middle class grew in size and prosperity as never before.
But starting with the 1981 Air Traffic Controllers Strike under President Ronald Reagan, where all the strikers were fired, leaving the nation in a dangerous, reckless situation regarding air safety, unions rapidly declined, and now are as low as 6-9 percent of the population, much of it public workers unions. Many states have become “right to work” states, or states that have worked against unionization, particularly in the South and Mountain West.
Now Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Rick Scott in Florida, and other Republican Governors are declaring war on public service unions, and this may be the turning point where the collective bargaining rights of 1935 are lost in 2011 and beyond, and just on the centennial of the horrible tragedy of the Triangle fire coming up in a few weeks.
Before that complete collapse of labor rights occurs, one can watch a documentary on PBS on Monday night, relating the terrible events of the Triangle Fire, and that event’s centennial should make us reflect on how far we have come and how far backward we seem to be headed!
Have we learned from history, or are we again ignoring history in the name of “bully” Governors who speak for the Koch Brothers and other extremely wealthy corporate interests, who do not give a damn about the rest of America in their mad dash to obscene profits and greed?