Monday, September 01, 2003


On America's Labor Day holiday I always seem to think about one of the tragic events in the history of working women. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I was especially reminded of the tragic loss of life to workers in the New York garment industry in 1911 by a review of a book Triangle by David Von Drehle published in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.

The most disturbing thought is that sweatshop safety issues are still largely uncontrolled in the US or internationally. Workers are badly paid, conditions are often unsafe and jobs are insecure as more and more manufacturing is taken "offshore" where workers are paid even less.

Still and all, one needs to keep a perspective. When visiting the Embroidery Institute in Suchow, China a few years ago I determined that workers there were paid the equivalent of about $.30 US per hour. However, in the context of their society and available employment for women, they seemed (on a superficial inquiry) to be quite happy working in the factory setting where they had housing benefits associated with their workgroup, a hot lunch provided for them and pre-school age children who came to work with them as well as a small commission on any work of theirs sold to tourists in the associated shop. Knowing this made me less reluctant to spend money for embroidery there.

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