Sunday, April 10, 2011

We offshore Triangle Shirtwaist fires now

Bangladeshi workers say they're inspired by workers in Wisconsin and Ohio.
 Gov. Paul LePage ordered a labor history mural removed from the Labor Department in Maine almost 100 years to the day since the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire killed 146 young women. Featured in the mural was Frances Perkins, the first U.S. labor secretary. Perkins happened to be standing on the street when the first Triangle Shirtwaist worker threw herself from the 9th floor window rather than burn to death. Perkins was so horrified by the tragedy that she devoted the rest of her life to improving worker safety.

Today American clothing is made by companies with as little regard for human life as the Triangle Waist Company had 100 years ago.  But no U.S. reformer is ever likely to be standing on the pavement watching as exploited garment workers fling themselves to their deaths.  That's because we've offshored massive worker tragedies to places like Bangladesh and China and India.

The Consumerist reports: Bangladesh in December 2010 ... 29 workers died after a fire swept through the Hameem garment factory. The workers were trapped inside because guards had been ordered to lock the gates in the event of a fire in order to prevent clothes from being stolen during the confusion. The factory made clothes for GAP.

The Bangladeshi workers earn 28 cents an hour, at most, so you can see why they'd be tempted to steal a pair of color-washed denim jeans.

Gap issued a statement saying it was "deeply saddened." Then it spread the blame around by noting that Abercrombie & Fitch, JCPenney, Target, and VF Corporation also do business with the factory in Bangladesh.

Will the fire prompt Gap and Target and JCPenney to raise wages and impose new safety regimens? We think not. They'll hope it goes away. If they're criticized again, they'll say they can't compete if they can't exploit workers. It's the same thing companies said 100 years ago when they fought work safety rules as "cumbersome and costly."

Our economy did just fine with so-called "cumbersome and costly" workplace regulations. Try telling that to Paul LePage, who supports a bill to roll back Maine's child labor laws.

If we don't beat back these anti-worker attacks coming from LePage and the other Governors Gone Wild, we won't be offshoring our Triangle Shirtwaist fires any more. We'll be watching them here again.