Why We Need Unions

Today is the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. (A shirtwaist is a blouse with buttons down the front.) On this day in 1911 146 people,  mostly young immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three died when a fire took place at The Triangle Waist Company – a three floor factory on the 8th, 9th, and 10th floor of the Asch Building in the Greenwich Village part of New York City.

The reason the women died, over half of them  jumping out of the building to avoid being burned was because  the doors to the stairwells had been locked by the managers either to prevent theft of material or to keep the women from taking breaks, or both.

The patently unsafe conditions, most of which seemed aimed only at creating more profit without any real concern for the workers was a huge impetus for the union movement.

The history of organized labor in the U.S. is worth reading. History of the Labor Movement in the United States VOL. 1 is a decent place to start. The short truth is that unbridled capitalism will always exploit workers in the name of profit. Unions are a rational response.

Sure, there have been abuses by unions. Or so it seems. But if you look deeply you’ll find many of the seemingly strange work rules are based on some safety issue. Sure union rules need regular updating, and benefits shouldn’t exceed the paying entity’s ability to pay them.

But we still have unequal pay for equal work. And workers shouldn’t have to fear being fired for arbitrary reasons or because they can be replaced with cheaper labor. Executive pay probably shouldn’t run into the millions and even billions when the lowest paid workers makes only a thousand or so a month.

Greed sparked the union movement out of need and it may well be that the labor movement will again be a force for balance.

Of course, we could turn the country over to a council of grandmothers… it’s a thought!

Love and blessings,

Anne Wayman: When Grandmother Speaks

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