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March 24, 2011

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Now just a darned minute! If you can't, under most circumstances, opt out of this market, how can you characterize it as 'free'?

And if it's free, why can't I have as many of them as I want for no cost?

But wait! There's more!

How beyond ironic is the juxtaposition of this anniversary with http://www.kjonline.com/news/gov_-lepage-unions-at-odds-about-mural_2011-03-23.html>this latest asinity from the [fill in the blanks with lots of adjectives starting with http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/14/paul-lepage-naacp-kiss-my-butt-video_n_809234.html>rude, http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0910/42886.html>foul-mouthed, dare I say racist and idiotic] new governor of my allegedly fair state.

The fact is that, in many cases, we have eliminated conditions like those found at Triangle by sending them offshore. In other cases, people in this country still work under conditions that are unsafe. Where they do not, it is because either the law or negotiated contracts make that so.

I think that what also happened is that during the course of the 20th century, laws and labor contracts made these kinds of conditions more and more rare, and as a result the culture of our country began to consider such conditions unacceptable in a civilized society. That's why corporations went offshore - they had to hide these abuses, and people who cared about working conditions abroad were trying to raise awareness, so that people would be interested in improving things abroad.

I grew up thinking that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was a thing of the past, something that we were steadily evolving away from. Instead, it seems to be where we're heading. I'm amazed that Republicans can be so shameless in their anti-regulatory rhetoric, and still be elected.

Thanks, russell, for remembering the Triangle victims.

When it gets to the point where it's suggested that Walker engineer an assassination attempt against himself in order to turn public opinion against unions, you know things have gotten even worse than they were before unions ever came into being. Frightening.

Yet the Triangle Shirtwaist owners suffered greater consequences than this guy

Plus la change...

Of course the libertarians will be along any minute to tell us how workers get a wage premium for working in dangerous conditions, and so on.

There was also this article on chalking the names of victims outside where they lived, which I post partly because I think that connecting history with present-day geography is a great engagement tool but mostly because the girl chalking a name on the sidewalk there is my excellent & adorable niece Josie, whose mother (my sister-in-law) also wrote a piece about the owners and the lawyer who defended them.

I think sapient is right about what happened, and the big push for "free trade" (which is just a slogan, not an actual thing) was 90% about avoiding US regulators and labor unions.

Because I deal routinely with industry-related accidents--the vast majority of which do not involve unions--I can tell you that the vast majority of middle to large companies have robust safety programs that are aggressively enforced. It is a rare accident that does not involve heavy doses, if not 100% fault on an employee who fails to use the safety tools and training he/she is given.

Today, for example, I deposed the father of a woman who was killed when one of my client's employees turned a vehicle over to another employee whose driver's license was suspended. The idiot then lost control of a company truck, crossed the middle line and killed a perfectly innocent stranger. Turns out both of our employees are in the country on well forged docs. My client will likely get assessed a 2.5-3.5 million dollar jury verdict. We'd settle in a heart beat for this amount and maybe more, but the victim's family's lawyer wants to make head lines and is demanding 11 million. Good luck there.

So, a good company hires the wrong people, conducts an MVR, rates the idiot as a non-driver and his foreman gives him a set of wheels anyway.

Russell, this isn't 1911 and more has changed than you can imagine.

Russell, this isn't 1911 and more has changed than you can imagine.

I get that.

Among the reasons things aren't like they were in 1911 are (a) the organized labor movement and (b) the progressive reforms of the early 20th C and the New Deal.

As sapient notes, those things helped change the culture. Things that were fairly common a century ago are not common now, not only due to the law, but to people's expectations about what a workplace should be like.

That didn't just happen by accident.

And there are industries that continue to be chronically unsafe, and there are employers who continue to chronically fail to meet their legal and moral obligation to provide a safe work environment.

And, there are other industries that rely on lax labor laws and workplace standards in other countries to help keep their costs low.

Yes, things are not like they were in 1911. That's because we changed them, and that effort is not yet complete.

Thanks, Tex. But let's take your silly anecdotal assertion at face value. Now we know that most industrial accidents these days are the fault of the employees...right? So if we have reduced employer fault then we have made progress, no?

Then what's your complaint?

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