Thursday, March 24, 2011

Labour: Triangle Returns - Young Women Continue to Die Locked in Sweatshops

On the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, workers in the developing world continue to die needlessly in sweatshops with locked exits.

Just three months shy of the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire, on December 14, 2010, a fire broke out at the Hameem factory in Bangladesh, which was sewing garments for Gap. The fire alarms did not go off, and the emergency exits were locked on the 9th floor, killing 29 workers—many of whom jumped to their deaths—and injuring over 100. At Hameem, the workers toil 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with just a single day off a month. The highest wage at Hameem is 28 cents an hour--less than one-tenth of what the Triangle workers earned 100 years ago! (Adjusted for inflation, the 14 cents an hour they earned in 1911 is worth $3.18 an hour today.) The garment workers in Bangladesh are trapped in misery, living in makeshift hovels.

Just months before the tragic fire, Triangle workers had led a strike movement to organize garment workers in New York City—and ultimately been beaten back by their own factory's management. In Hameem too, management busted a union organizing drive in September 2008, imprisoning the union president and firing all 19 of the lead activists. It did not matter that well over half of the workers supported the union's demands.

When the workers in Bangladesh took to the streets in July 2010 demanding a 35-cent-an-hour wage, they were beaten with clubs. The police shot rubber bullets and used power water cannons to sweep the workers off their feet. There was dye in the water so that demonstrating workers could be identified and imprisoned later.

We are at a cross roads. We can stand back and allow corporations to drive this Race to the Bottom, exploiting sweatshop workers across the developing world, as wages and benefits are also cut for working Americans. Or, we can fight back, and hold corporations accountable to respect local labor and minimum wage laws and the core internationally recognized worker rights standards—no child labor, no forced labor, freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively. The choice is ours.

SOURCE Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (Formerly National Labor Committee)