Honor and Esteem our Workers; Protect our Workers – Two Simple Reminders on this Labor Day

I have two simple recommendations for Labor Day:

#1 – Let’s honor and esteem our workers.
#2 – Let’s protect our workers.

There seems to be a whole lot of anti-labor sentiment these days.  That is, I think, a little wrong-headed.  And it reveals some very short memories.

Let’s take them in reverse order:

#2 —Let’s protect our workers.

So, here’s the thing.  People can be cruel, horribly abusive to other people.  So can companies, with “bad” leaders and “negligent” policies.

And, well-meaning people can be “duped” by those with whom they do business.  Yes, Virginia, there are companies that abuse its workers.

Do you remember the case of the sweatshop workers making clothing for the Kathie Lee Gifford line?  When it was first reported, Kathie Lee stated firmly that it was not happening.  She then discovered it was.  She apologized, and worked toward better worker conditions, appearing at the White House while Bill Clinton was President, to counter international sweat shop abuses.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - March 25, 1911

Or, do you know the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?  Here’s the summary paragraph (from Wikipedia):

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. It was also the deadliest disaster in New York City until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three;[1][2][3] the oldest victim was 48, the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls.[4] Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

In the aftermath of the fire, within two years the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union “had organized roughly ninety percent of the cloakmakers in the industry in New York City. It improved benefits in later contracts and obtained an unemployment insurance fund for its members in 1919.”  (from the Wikipedia article:  International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union).

So, protecting the workers seems to be a long-term, and ongoing need.  Further reminder:  let’s remember that Chesley Sullenberger, leading a team of true professionals to land an engine-less airplane safely in the Hudson River, served as the Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman.

And this is a true ongoing need.  Workers need safety; workers need protection.  There is a long history of companies cutting back on safety.  (Remember Massey Energy, the owner of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 were killed in an explosion in 2010. — “In 2009, the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration cited Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine for 495 violations and proposed $911,802 in fines.”)  You might want to read: Fatalities Higher at Non-Union Mines—Like Massey’s Upper Big Branch.

Labor Unions take safety and protection quite seriously.  I don’t blame them.

Now to the first of the two:

#1 – Let’s honor and esteem our workers.

I’ll keep this simple, and quote from Abraham Lincoln, from his annual message to Congress, 1861:

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Protect our workers.  Honor and Esteem our workers.  Two good reminders for this Labor Day.

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