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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Politics Behind Door #1

The sub-title of "Triangle: The Fire That Changed America" telegraphs the central premise of journalist David Von Drehle's 2003 riveting account of the fire that took 146 lives in a NYC shirtwaist factory on March 25, 1911. In this author's view, that avoidable tragedy was a catalyst for many progressive workplace reforms that followed.

Given the horrendous workplace conditions existing in developing world sweatshops producing inexpensive goods for the modern age, I can readily envision book titles in the near future that need only replace a few words. How about "Nike: The Fire That Changed India"? or "Apple: The Building Collapse That Changed Malaysia"? That leads me to reflect: Is progressive a dirty word in those countries right now as it was in pre-Triangle America? And, how did America revert to the word being dirty a century later?

Reading a book like Von Drehle's reminded me of a few of the quaint notions progressive politics has given us - fire safety, child labor laws, scaling the work week back from 84 hours. Conserving the status quo in 1910 America meant 84 hour work weeks for 14 year olds (the youngest victim of the fire) in demonstrably unsafe buildings. Progress or conserve? When this talented author draws a straight line to the many other progressive reforms that followed on the heels of the Triangle Fire, and groups aligned with those reforms like the Suffragists and early advocates of the New Deal, I choose door #1.  


  1. Pat, Good point. When I speak with my now almost 95 year old mother, I often express my dissatisfaction with the slow progress we've made on social and racial issues. As she tells me of teenage and young adult memories,I realize just how much progressive politics has contributed to advance our present day society.Why is "progressive" now considered a dirty word? I have no answer. A guess would be that the greed that drove those sweatshops is not erased from all of human nature in one century. Fortunately,for society,progressive politics is still there trying to fight it.

    1. Peter; Thanks for your comment and the added insights gained via your Mom's perspective. Also, you get a glimmer of recognition from today's (9/5) post.