By Michael Messina
The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 garment workers died in New York City’s garment district, has lived in infamy in America’s labor rights history. But it also acted as a catalyst for unions and others to make workplaces safer. Will the Bangladesh factory collapse that has claimed the lives of over 1,100(!) people, do the same?
We have to wonder, what price are consumers willing to pay for a cheaper shirt or to save a few dollars on a new pair of pants?
This unimaginable catastrophe has woken up people in the garment industry and some companies, mostly in Europe, are signing an accord to make the industry safer. Only one American company, PVH, the maker of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, has signed. This type of movement is a good first step, but it is only one part of a much broader need to establish comprehensive health and welfare for workers in countless industries.
This is the basis of Labor 411; to provide a source for ethical consumers who want to support companies across all industries that treat their employees well and keep them safe. Unions exist for this purpose, and need to be strengthened in this country, not destroyed.
Reestablishing the United States as a manufacturing powerhouse with labor-conscious employers at the helm and hard-working employees backed by union solidarity is still a long way off, but recent trends have signaled a change.
As I scour through news articles day in and day out, an encouraging development seems to be shaping up. The dream of an American comeback in the manufacturing sector is no longer a fool’s hope.
Labor 411’s objective of keeping the world of union labor strong has always been steeped in the success of the American manufacturing sector. I always get a little cheery when I see an indication of positive trends in U.S. manufacturing, a sector that historically tends to parallel union success.
A recent article in the New York Times indicated that manufacturing growth in China has finally slowed and that focus on exports is shifting to domestic investments in that country. The cost of manufacturing in China is rising, due in part to an increase in wages for Chinese labor. This is good news, both for workers in China and for American labor.
CNBC cited a recent study by consulting firm AlixPartners that asserts the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. will be on par with China by the year 2015. Americans are fully on board with a renaissance in manufacturing, too. About two thirds of Americans strongly support a national strategy to bring new life to the manufacturing industry, according to a survey commissioned by the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
Discovering what that national strategy is might be something of challenge, but it is finally within our grasp. In These Times writer David Moberg asserts that the U.S. government needs to take a bolder role (like it did in American auto industry) in the revival and not simply depend on the rise of Chinese labor costs.
All consumers need to take a bolder role as well and make a concerted effort to support such manufacturing jobs. And Labor 411 is here to help! Good union jobs are the bedrock of such a comeback and with your steady contributions the revival is possible. Say no to blood clothing. Say yes to American-made, union-made garments and goods.