Monday, December 14, 2015

Things needed to change- (Assignment 2)

     “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Is a quote that is synonymous with the statue of liberty and the values of America.  These are words that many immigrants see when they enter the country and give them hope for a better life then the homeland they left behind.  It is not surprising that in the early 1900's over half of New York Cities population were immigrants.  Men, women and children all worked to help support their families.  Due to the fact that the garment industry was the most bustling industry in New York at the time many immigrants found themselves working in low paying jobs, with poor working conditions,  Men were typically paid more doing jobs that entailed cutting and pressing, while the women were paid much less for assembling and finishing the garments.  The average work week was about 65 hours, and workers were required to bring their own tools: needles, thread, and sewing machines.  Employers had the right to fine their workers for being late to work or damaging any garments.  In some cases the employers went as far as locking the doors to where the people were working, leaving women to have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom.  They did not want there workings taking unnecessary breaks or stealing.  In there mind the danger of locking workers in a work space was justified,  One of the largest companies was known as the Triangle and Leiserson shirtwaist factories.  It's workforce was made up of over 70% woman, and over half of them under the age of 20 years old. 

The picture above shows a child working the textile industry.

Men hard at work in the textile industry

A Factory of woman assembling the garments.

     Many of the immigrants who had come from Europe were familiar with Unions and Union Organization.  Many of the Jewish woman who made up the largest population of workers were members of the Bund, which was a union they were associated with before moving to America.  Due to the fact they had insight and experience with organized labor, many Jewish woman were among the forefront for woman's suffrage in New York. 

     In 1909 a strike was led by a Jewish woman named Clara Lemlich and supported by the National Women's Trade Union League of America.  This strike was known as The Uprising of 20,000.  Clara had attended a 25 Union meeting on November 22, 1909.  After listening to a group of men speak about the disadvantages and cautions about the shirtwaist workers going on strike for over four hours, this fiery little woman decided she had something she wanted to say.   As she stood in front of her peers she declared that the shirtwaist workers would be going on strike.  Her passion for the injustice she and others were faced with was felt so strongly that in less then one day 15,000 workers had joined together to be part of the strike.  Can you imagine having an impact on 15,000 people in less then one day?
Clara Lemlich
     The strike lasted until February 1909 in a "protocol of peace".  With the NWTUL settling with factory owners, allowing workers to return to their jobs with their demands of higher pay, shorter hours, better working conditions, as well equal treatment of union and non union members.  Clara's passion and guts helped ignite the development of an important milestone in American Labor Movement. 
     Sadly a year later, on March 25th 1911 one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the United States occurred, known as The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory Fire.  The fire caused the death of 146 factory workers.  123 of whom were woman and 23 which were men.  The owners of the factory had locked all the doors to keep their workers from taking unnecessary breaks and to prevent theft.  When the workers were unable to escape many of them jumped to their deaths from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floor of the Asch building.  Woman were being pulled from the side walk so that their families could come and identify their bodies.
Fire Fighters attempting to but out the flams...Notice how their hoses can't really reach?

Inside the building After the Fire

New Paper Headline

Family Members Identifying Bodies
Woman Jumping to their death, while police stare at the building hopelessly

     The tragedy did bring about some positive changes: Legislation was passed to improve the safety standards for factories.  It also ignited the growth of the International Garment Workers' Union, which fought for better working conditions in sweat shops.  The IGWU formed a Public Safety commission to identify unjust, unsafe, and unfair problems and lobby for new laws.  An example of this was the "54-Hour Bill", which granted workers shorter hours in the work week.  The New York State Legislature then created the Factory Investigating Commission.  Which was a check point to see where there were holes in safety for employees so that such a catastrophe wouldn't occur again.  


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