Profiles in Corporate Responsibility: Triangle Shirtwaist a Century Later

Today’s New York Times ran, as the site’s cover story, a series of pieces on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, an industrial tragedy that killed or injured over 200 workers, and lent urgency to both the organized labor and Progressive movements.

The facts of the disaster remain remarkable: a small fire broke out on the eighth floor and, because the factory owners had not installed alarms, reached the ninth and tenth floors without warning. Women ran to the exits, but found them locked to prevent theft, and to ensure that they could not leave without the foreman’s knowledge. The only key was in the hands of that foreman who, of course, had left at the first sign of trouble, consigning his workers to their wholly unnecessary deaths.

Desperate to escape, 62 women tried to jump to safety from the burning ninth floor. None survived.

In the wake of the tragedy, New York’s legislature, until then held at bay by corporate lobbyists and a conservative court, finally modernized its labor laws. Today’s tea party would destroy that legacy, because to them, “Progressives,” “unions,” and “regulation” are dirty words. How many of us have to die or suffer until we learn, again, that corporations can’t be trusted to look to the public welfare? That’s not their job. It is the government’s.

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54 comments

  1. From March 1st:

    “…I’ve never capitalized the progressive movement (although Glenn Beck does)…”

    http://acandidworld.com/2011/03/01/the-lowercase-tea-party/

    From today:

    “…and lent urgency to both the organized labor and Progressive movements.”

    Inconsistency or carelessness?

    1. I think I was wrong, earlier. Progressives get an era. If the tea party gets that, well, then they get capitalized too.

      1. That’s a pretty convenient change of heart…

    2. I must say working at a university has been an experience. I have met creationist and global warming deniers; along with the usual learned biologist, geologist, paleontologists, and atmospheric scientists who disagree. I have meat people on both sides of the theological debate. Pro-Palestinians and Pro-Israelis. Radical feminists and people who don’t think the university should award women degrees. I have seen an arch-conservative say he admires Chomsky for his great academic works. The only thing I have ever seen these people have a full on row about has been grammar. The only disagreement people will talk about for hours is the use of commas. I am at a loss to explain why.

  2. “Today’s tea party would destroy that legacy, because to them, “Progressives,” “unions,” and “regulation” are dirty words.”

    What specific workplace safety rules have the Tea Party stated they wanted to abolish? Also, is this just a TP thing?

    And yes, in the modern, liberal-code-phrase sense, Progressive IS a dirty word.

      1. It was a straight-forward question. How is the Tea Party movement opposing workplace safety?

      2. If you oppose the Progressive era, you oppose workplace safety reforms. Either that, or you’re uneducated. Which is it, for our tea party friends?

        1. Okay – let’s get a couple things straight: Glen Beck and a few other conservative talking heads have been loudy retro-complaining about the Progressive Era because in their minds it represents socialist overreach. The accuracy of those criticisms is a whole topic into itself (and post-worthy) but the fact is that they represent a small number of people who are doing this. The Tea Party movement is certainly not opposing the Progressive Era en masse and to claim they are is an exageration.

          The second point I will make is that you can generally criticize an Era or Movement while at the same time supporting certain accomplishments within that movement. For example, I could say that I generally think the War on Drugs has been terrible but I could be happy that it made anti-drug campaigns a feature in public schools. I could say I think the New Deal as a whole was flawed but be really enthusiastic about the TVA bringing electricity to rural homes.

          So try again Ames…I mean ACG…I mean Marius.

        2. Haha. I changed the name because the initials were boring. And if Julia’s blog will link here, I want a catchy name!

          And that’s fine. But you hear a lot of yelling about Progressives, and the evil they’ve done. Isn’t it distortionary for Beck & co. to leave it at that?

          1. Well Marius you have to broaden your horizons beyond Beck. I would recommend you start with Jonah Goldberg who wrote a much more nuanced critique of the Progressive Movement (and Beck actually borrowed a lot from him). He primarily criticized the movement under Wilson because of the way he leveraged government power to crush private industry in ways that went beyond ‘reform’.

            You also have to remember that your side of the aisle has really muddied the waters by using Progressive in a modern sense as a code-word for liberal. You do it yourself. That immediately creates confusion and animosity.

  3. I’ve never heard “Jonah Goldberg” and “nuanced” in the same sentence together. This is a movel experience! But what matters is what’s marketed, not any intellect he has but has buried for the convenience of the press.

    1. Check the book out – it reads much more like an academic piece than Beck. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his conclusions but it’s pretty well thought out.

    1. Yep – it’s an interesting read.

  4. This feels like a book one can literally dismiss on the basis of its cover. I’ve seen him present the book and try to argue it’s not as ridiculous as the cover, and it’s unconvincing. Nonetheless I think I may read it.

  5. Okay! Purchased for iPhone! Maybe I can write another review? Hooray?

    This is still in the top 10 hits for searching for his book!

    1. The cover is awesome – and of course liberals automatically dismiss it. He’s not Foucalt but I also think he has some bright spots in there. And I always give Goldberg credit for one of my favorite quotes of all time,“Never under-estimate the potential for liberals to pass up a good idea in hopes of finding a great one.”

    2. Here’s also a little set of essays that should accompany any reading of Liberal Fascism:

      http://www.hnn.us/articles/122469.html

    3. AHAH! Thank you :). I think I’ve read these before, and loved them. Because this sounds familiar:

      Goldberg’s book, merely in conflating the seemingly contradictory terms “liberal” and “fascism,” fundamentally nullifies the meanings of both words – and its core thesis, that fascism was “a phenomenon of the left,” is a historically false fraud. At its core, Liberal Fascism is an act of Newspeak that pollutes the national discourse by destroying our understanding. And when large numbers of people believe nonsense that is simply and provably false, not only is our resulting discourse deeply irrational, but so are the democratic outcomes.

  6. The cover implies that liberals are fascists. And that liberals created, or appreciate Hitler. And that modern liberalism is derivative of Hitler.

    No?

    1. No – it implies that there was fascism on the Left in the 20th century. It doesn’t mean ALL liberals were fascist.

    2. Oh well in that case it’s entirely inoffensive and non-absurd!!!!

      Please.

      1. It’s only absurd if you have some kind of chip on your shoulder where you think there’s a case to be made against ALL liberals. I’m not going to waste my time doing a search but I am 100% sure we could find dozens (hundreds?) of examples of books that seem to make a gross generalization in their titles. If you’re going to get offended by a dust jacket your skin is thinner than I thought.

        1. Is the problem more that the book, through its inaccuracies and gross distortions, founded the bases the idea that all liberals are fascists? Beck has whipped this into a near frenzy.

          1. Is the book actually inaccurate? Are the historical facts presented incorrect?

            1. That Roger Griffin piece is painful. This paragraph made me queasy:

              “Given this situation, it is pointless to expend more than a few ergs of serious scholarly energy on refuting the legion distortions, calumnies, and lies ― both historiographical and definitional ― that pullulate in the pages of Goldberg’s book. Despite its duplicitous format and linguistic register, it is not written as an academic monograph and is hence is not to be judged by academic yard-sticks.”

              I do not miss reading that type of ‘academic’ prose in the least.

  7. oneiroi · ·

    I don’t know if you mentioned or watched this Rand Paul (a tea party poster boy) interview with Jon Stewart: http://www.hulu.com/watch/222168/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-rand-paul-part-1

    But, as I was watching it, all I kept hearing him Rand say was, “You know what, you’re right, these government regulations made life better, but you know what, we’re pretty ok now, maybe it’s too much, let’s get rid of them”.

    Although, in a time of energy company disasters, financial regulatory needed, food safety issues ongoing and worse…I would disagree.

    1. He never said that – he just said the regs need to be dialed back because things have gone way too far. That’s not a radical idea.

    2. oneiroi · ·

      That’s what I said, “maybe it’s too much”, and didn’t say it was radical.

      I just found his argument weak, a little contradictory, especially with everything that’s been happening here.

      1. We all know there is tremendous government waste and there is also overreach on certain regs. Could the WPA ever get all of those projects done today? Absolutely not. We’ve been trying to get a bridge built here in Lousville for almost a decade. It’s a nightmare.

      2. You can’t think of any other reason a bridge might not get built promptly?

        Also, fine, maybe some regs could go. But you know what’s hilarious? Conservatives never say which. Just “regulations.”

        1. Are you reading any serious, in-the-weeds policy pieces about regulation reform or are you just depending on Politico for this info?

        2. There are law professors that make those sorts of analyses. But they’re law professors, so they avoid the superficial lede about the evils of regulation altogether.

          1. So your conservative law professors were your source for examples of Republican regulatory critique and they failed to provide it so therefore no one is talking about it?

        3. Most of the cuts I’ve seen aren’t aimed at waste, but doing things like defunding, firing employees, and generally weakening agencies like the FDA.

          While we still have problems with mass outbreaks in our food supply.

          Which also gets into the the scope of the minutia of “waste” they say they are cutting.

  8. I read through (most) of the essays that AKjeldsen referenced before I read the Goldberg response and interestingly was thinking along the same lines as he did. It seems the criticisms were all targeted at the minutiae of his scholarship and ignored his overall premise. They all seemed to be obsessed with his misuse of terminology, mostly surrounding political science terms. The core thesis of Goldberg’s book, that modern liberalism owes at least part of its intenllectual pedigree to fascist movements, isn’t really being refuted by any of these writers because they keep dwelling on the semantics of ‘fascism’ even though Goldberg offers his definition early in the book.

    1. Come now, Mike. The question of how to define your core subject matter is hardly a matter of “minutiae”. The definition controls everything else in the analysis. You know that.

      And if you, as Feldman says, “treat fascist ideology so elastically as to make it mean whatever you want”, you can make anything make sense. Then the whole premise becomes fundamentally flawed.

      1. But I don’t think his definition is that elastic or that far from the most generally-accepted meaning. Furthermore, you know as well as I do that terminology, especially political terminology, is a moving target. The liberalism of today would hardly be recognized by ‘liberals’ of the 1920s.Progressives of the original movement would hardly understand the small p ‘progressives’ of today. So why not re-examine what is and isn’t fascist through the lens of today?

        1. You may not think that, yet here we have half a dozen recognized actual experts on actual fascism who think it is. So there’s that.

          1. Goldberg addresses that very point:

            “Michael Ledeen, who has serious disagreements with my book, is nonetheless basically right. Liberal Fascism is “a work of political theory, not a history.” My historical analysis was always intended to illustrate and illuminate my theoretical argument.

            Some of the confusion it has generated is surely my fault; but the hysterical reaction of many critics is less a product of misunderstanding than the result of the baggage they bring to the book, professional wagon-circling and rank partisanship. I’m not going to dilate on this point too long. But I think contemporary liberals and leftists have grown so comfortable in their self-anointed role as arbiters of fascism in particular and political evil in general, that my book elicits a certain panic for those whose thinking is propped up by ideological clichés. For the professional historians, it’s hard not to detect a bit of a guild mentality behind some of the (hopefully) canned outrage.”

  9. Misuse of terminology is exactly the point though. His entire book is aimed at a way of pervert the word fascism, and deputize it in service of his particular agenda.

    1. That would only be true if he never offered his own definition of the word. So long as he offers his definition of fascism then the reader can make an honest evaluation for his linkage to modern liberalism.

      1. When an author makes stuff up uses a definition that differs markedly from the mainstream, and especially when addressing a non-expert audience, I think it’s incumbent on him to go into some detail about what he’s doing and why, and what the differences are. ¨But Goldberg doesn’t do that. In fact, his entire use of actual real-life scholarship on fascism could only generously be called haphazard.

        1. But there’s no supreme council of political terminology. People have been debating these terms for a long time. Do you know how often I still get called a neo-con despite the fact that the only characteristic I share with them is that I supported the Iraw War in 2003? How often is Italy’s fascism conflated with Germany’s fascism? How often was Bush called a fascist? How often are liberals called socialists? These terms are very fluid.

          1. The terms are only “fluid” because “socialist” and “fascist” are associated in the imagination of hoi polloi with Great Evils of the past, and so are pressed into service by irresponsible ideologues to demonize their opponents.

            It just so happens that the Right is better-organized, and much better at demonizing the Left (not that I’d call the Democratic Party ‘leftist’ these days) than its counterpart; you ask: how often was Bush called a fascist? I can think of exactly one occasion on national TV, and that was one of Keith Olbermann’s Special Comments. In 2008. How often are liberals called socialists? Well, how often do Beck, O’Reilly, Bachmann, Steve King, Sarah Palin, et al get a spot on national TV? There’s no real equivalence here.

            1. I was talking about more than talking heads – I was talking about bloggers, chat board attendees, protestors, the whole liberal spectrum. And I think we all know that ‘socialism’ and ‘fascism’ do not carry equal stigma.

              1. Oh, that’s fine. If you want to count bloggers, chat board attendees, and protestors in with talking heads, it turns out that the Right is still way ahead in the useless-demonization game.

                And you are correct: ‘socialism’ and ‘fascism’ do not carry equal stigma. Only the former has been a consistent boogeyman since the 1950s.

                1. If you want to go back to the 50’s I think it was specifically ‘communism’ that was demonized.

                  1. A quick Google search on “threat of international socialism” demonstrates that you’re incorrect: the top result was this article in a 1954 issue of LIFE magazine.

                  2. Yeah, and remember how Reagan hilariously decried the advent of “socialist medicine” in the form of…

                    MEDICARE?

                    Hilarious. Overreactive then, overreactive now.

                    1. What do you mean, “overreactive”? Medicare makes some people (young workers) pay for the healthcare of other people (retirees). What’s not socialized about that, and what’s good about that? Little and nothing, that’s what.

  10. All this has inspired me to read some William Graham Sumner.

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