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Garment Labor Unions


... Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Columbia Sportswear, according to union activists. In the new world economy, retailers shop around for the lowest-cost ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Garment Labor Unions

Garment Labor Unions
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  • Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March
    25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of
    the Asch Building in the Triangle Shirtwaist
    Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring
    afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying
    moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of
    young workers.
  • By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500
    employees had died. The survivors were left to
    live and relive those agonizing moments. The
    victims and their families, the people passing by
    who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth
    floor windows, and the City of New York would
    never be the same. 
  • Survivors recounted the horrors they had to
    endure, but passers-by and reporters also told
    stories of pain and terror they had witnessed.
    The images of death were seared deeply in their
    mind's eyes.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building (New
York) Source  http//
  • Many of the Triangle factory workers were women,
    some as young as 15 years old.
  • They were, for the most part, recent Italian and
    European Jewish immigrants who had come to the
    United States with their families to seek a
    better life. Instead, they faced lives of
    grinding poverty and horrifying working
  • As recent immigrants struggling with a new
    language and culture, the working poor were ready
    victims for the factory owners. For these
    workers, speaking out frequently would end with
    the loss of desperately needed jobs, a prospect
    that forced them to endure personal indignities
    and severe exploitation.
  • Some turned to labor unions to speak for them
    many more struggled alone. The Triangle Factory
    was a non-union shop although some of its workers
    had joined the International Ladies' Garment
    Workers' Union.

the building after the fire
  • New York City, with its tenements and loft
    factories, had witnessed a growing concern for
    issues of health and safety in the early years of
    the 20th century.
  • Groups such as the International Ladies' Garment
    Workers' Union (ILGWU) and the Womens' Trade
    Union League (WTUL) fought for better working
    conditions and protective legislation.
  • Fire inspections and precautions were woefully
    inadequate at the time.
  • The Triangle Fire tragically illustrated these
  • Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open
    the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place
    stairs. They and many others afterwards believed
    they were locked.

  • For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire
    escape in the Asch Building led nowhere,
    certainly not to safety, and it bent under the
    weight of the factory workers trying to escape
    the inferno.
  • Others waited at the windows for the rescue
    workers only to discover that the firefighters'
    ladders were several stories too short and the
    water from the hoses could not reach the top
  • Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to
    burn alive.

Twisted fire escape
March 25, 1911. Fighting the Fire
Police and onlookers standing by the bodies of
women who leapt from the burning building
  • Protesting voices arose, bewildered and angry at
    the lack of concern and the greed that had made
    this possible.
  • The people demanded restitution, justice, and
    action that would safeguard the vulnerable and
    the oppressed. Outraged cries calling for action
    to improve the unsafe conditions in workshops
    could be heard from every quarter, from the
    mainstream conservative to the progressive and
    union press.
  • Workers flocked to union quarters to offer
    testimonies, support mobilization, and demand
    that Triangle owners Harris and Blanck be brought
    to trial.
  • The role that strong unions could have in helping
    prevent such tragedies became clear.
  • Workers organized in powerful unions would be
    more conscious of their rights and better able to
    obtain safe working conditions.

Some of the dead,
surrounded by police and firefighters
  • In the weeks that followed, the grieving city
    identified the dead, sorted out their belongings,
    and reeled in numbed grief at the atrocity that
    could have been averted with a few precautions.
  • The International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
    proposed an official day of mourning. The
    grief-stricken city gathered in churches,
    synagogues, and finally, in the streets.

Bodies lined up for identification
  • Eight months after the fire a jury acquitted
    Blanck and Harris, the factory owners, of any
    wrong doing.
  • The task of the jurors had been to determine
    whether the owners knew that the doors were
    locked at the time of the fire. Customarily, the
    only way out for workers at quitting time was
    through an opening on the Green Street side,
    where all pocketbooks were inspected to prevent
    stealing. Worker after worker testified to their
    inability to open the doors to their only viable
    escape route the stairs to the Washington Place
    exit, because the Green Street side stairs were
    completely engulfed by fire. More testimony
    supported this fact
  • Yet the brilliant defense attorney Max Steuer
    planted enough doubt in the jurors' minds to win
    a not-guilty verdict.
  • Grieving families and much of the public felt
    that justice had not been done. "Justice!" they
    cried. "Where is justice?"
  • Twenty-three individual civil suits were brought
    against the owners of the Asch building. On March
    11, 1913, three years after the fire, Harris and
    Blanck settled. They paid 75 per life lost.
  • http//

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Questions to Ponder
  • 1. What did the Triangle Shirt Factory Fire
  • 2. Are labor unions need in American industry?
  • 3. Could this happen today?

Cambodia's growing experiment with
unionism August 14, 2000 Web posted at 506 AM
HKT (2106 GMT)
  • PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Faced with mounting
    intimidation and violence from factory owners and
    police after strikes and street rallies,
    thousands of Cambodian garment workers seeking
    better wages recently decided enough was enough.
  • They went back to work.
  • "Let the workers go back to work and get money
    first and we will strike again," said Chea
    Vichea, leader of the Free Trade Union of the
    Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, a maverick
    union. "It does not mean we have lost."
  • Not exactly the sort of comments that strike fear
    in global corporate boardrooms. But it's not a
    bad entrance for Cambodia's newly aggressive
    labor movement, either.

  • As the garment industry rapidly expands in this
    impoverished Southeast Asia nation, fueled by
    voracious foreign demand for low-cost labor, a
    fledgling movement is defying perceptions that
    most Cambodian workers are just thankful for a
    job in the new economy.
  • So far, sporadic job actions have met with mixed
    response, bringing only minor improvements in
    working conditions -- hardly cutting into
    Cambodia's growing reputation as a cheap haven
    for foreign manufacturers.
  • But as the new math spreads into the Cambodian
    workplace, employees are growing increasingly
    vocal over low pay, long hours and dreary job

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  • Amid the 200-odd factories that have opened in
    Cambodia the past five years, the world economy
    has come home to decidedly mixed reviews.
  • "At least we should have Sunday to take a rest.
    We are human," Im Voeun, 29, said during a
    30-minute lunch break one recent Saturday on the
    main road south of the capital, where garment
    factories are clustered.
  • She often must work 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., and
    sometimes seven days a week -- even though
    Cambodia has an official six-day work week.

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  • Like other developing nations from Asia to Africa
    to Central America, Cambodia takes its place near
    the bottom of the global industrial pecking
    order, cheaply providing many of the low-end
    products the developed world consumes.
  • The garment industry, with more than 100,000
    workers, is now Cambodia's biggest export earner
    by far and supplies such retailers as Nike, Gap,
    Fruit of the Loom, Oshkosh, Ralph Lauren, Calvin
    Klein and Columbia Sportswear, according to union

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  • In the new world economy, retailers shop around
    for the lowest-cost suppliers, and suppliers --
    the factory owners, or middlemen, in some cases
    -- shop around for the lowest-cost production
    facilities, wherever in the world they may be.
  • "The prize goes to those countries with the
    lowest wages, longest hours and most repressive
    treatment of their work force," said a report on
    the Asian garment industry by the Catholic Fund
    for Overseas Development, an arm of the Roman
    Catholic Church in England and Wales.

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Questions to Ponder
  • 1. Why are the abuses still
  • going on?
  • Who is responsible?
  • What can you do to change the situation?

Michael Jordan soars through the air, on shoes of
unpaid labor. A boy kicks a soccer ball, the
bloody hands are forgotten. An excited girl
combs the hair of her Barbie, an over-worked
girl makes it. A child receives a teddy
bear, Made in China has no meaning. The words
"hand made" are printed, whose hands were used to
make them? A six year old in America starts his
first day of school, A six year old in Pakistan
starts his first day of work. They want us to
see the ball, not to see the millions of ball
stitchers. The world is full of many masks,
the hard part is seeing beneath them. Cameron
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