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Ignoring workers' rights and safety is a deadly disaster

author:Study Times

At the beginning of the 20th century, during the Gilded Age of rapid economic development in the United States, the core demands of the people focused on individual content such as wages and working hours, and paid little attention to public issues such as social security. The fire in the New York underwear factory changed the focus, rewrote the policy agenda, and changed American society. The fire awakened the social conscience of New York, shook the whole United States, and triggered a series of social reforms. As a result, it has been called the "Great Fire That Changed America" and is written into the history of the American labor movement, the history of the women's movement, and middle school textbooks, and its lessons are worth learning.

The situation and incident of the underwear factory before the fire

At the beginning of the 20th century, the United States experienced rapid economic development, rapid urbanization, and a flock of European immigrants, but the working environment was dangerous and harsh, life and health were difficult to protect, and fires were endless. For example, the Chicago theater fire killed 602 people, and the New York Harbor steamship fire killed 693 people. The fire in the underwear factory in New York, which triggered a drastic social change, was one of the tragedies of the time. Although the fire did not have the largest number of deaths, it had the greatest impact on American society.

Between South Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, New York, there is a rectangular green space called Washington Square. Next to the square is a 10-story building that now belongs to New York University. A hundred years ago, many young girls walked through narrow streets to enter the building every day, but instead of going to class, they went to work in an underwear factory. At that time, there were more than 500 employees, of which 4/5 were women. Before the fire, the factory often locked the workshop, prohibited conversation, restricted the use of toilets, and had to bring its own needles, threads and other production utensils to work, and was often fined. Not only did the workers often work late into the night, they were not paid overtime, and they were searched after work, which led to tensions between labor and management. In order to fight for their rights, women workers joined the Women's Clothing Workers' Federation, for which more than 150 people were fired. After that, more than 40,000 people went on strike in New York, Philadelphia and other places in solidarity, which was also the first general strike of female workers in the United States.

On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the underwear factory, and the fire first ignited on the 8th floor, and the flames and smoke quickly spread throughout the workshop. Someone ran to the fire hydrant to remove the water hose, but found that the hose was rotten, the water valve was rusty, and the faucet could not be opened. Soon the flames entered the workshop through the window, and people were instantly frightened and tried to rush down the stairs, but found that the door was locked. Later, in a panic, people tried to rush out of the workshop, but tripped over fabrics and tools. Suddenly, the oil drum in the stairwell exploded, completely cutting off the retreat. There was a ladder on the side of the building, but the passage was closed, and people smashed the shutters open before climbing up the rickety iron ladder. Under the blazing flames and heavy pressure, the ladder suddenly snapped, and all the people on the ladder fell to the ground and died.

The fire killed 146 people, most of them female workers. The district attorney indicted the factory owner for manslaughter, but the jury could not determine whether the defendant knew the workshop was locked and acquitted the factory owner. The factory owner was later awarded $200,000 in property insurance compensation and later restructured his business, suspected of avoiding civil litigation. The victims' families had no choice but to file a civil lawsuit against the owner of the building, and in the end they were only awarded $75 each.

Post-incident policy evaluation, agenda-setting, and institutional improvement

The lingerie factory fire shocked the nation and was second only to the 9/11 terrorist attacks that followed in New York City's history. Prior to this, all levels of government in the United States considered occupational safety to be an internal matter of the company and generally did not intervene. In the aftermath of this incident, various sectors in New York have taken action, launched large-scale investigations, and pushed for federal, state, and municipal legislation to improve safety production standards and improve the working environment. In June 1911, under the impetus of this incident, the New York State Legislature established a commission of inquiry and invited people from all walks of life to participate in a comprehensive investigation of the city's accident hazards.

Under the impetus of the Commission of Inquiry, New York State has passed 36 pieces of legislation, including the Sullivan-Hoy Law, including requiring companies to set up ladders, fire exits, fire isolation, fire alarms and fire drills, as well as strict ventilation, lighting, elevators, non-smoking and hygiene standards in the workplace. At the same time, it also clarifies the responsibilities of employers to ensure the safety of workers and special provisions for the protection of women and children. To ensure implementation, New York has also reorganized the Department of Labor, significantly increased the number of supervisors, and granted the Department of Labor the power to create regulations. In 1915-1916, New York also overhauled its building codes, stipulating for the first time that public buildings should be set up at the exit and strictly prohibited from occupancy, and that old buildings converted into factories must be renovated according to new standards. In order to ensure implementation, New York has also expanded the functions of the Ministry of Construction, adding that it inspects business premises, orders repairs and renovations, and punishes illegal acts. In the following years, New York passed a series of new bills, which were of epoch-making significance in the field of social management.

The underwear factory fire became a catalyst for reform in the social sphere, a node for the protection of women's rights, and became one of the important driving events of International Women's Day. At the same time, it has also played a role in promoting the reform of international labor rights, production safety, and working environment.

Revelations from the lingerie factory fire incident

The fire in the New York underwear factory forced reform in the social field, and through the follow-up investigation and evaluation mechanism, a series of laws and regulations were improved, and gradually extended to the whole country. This fire has objectively become a landmark event in the United States to promote social progress, and its lessons and lessons have also brought some enlightenment to future generations.

Coordinate the development of various fields and maintain coordinated progress. At the beginning of the 20 th century, the United States had leapt to the top of the world in terms of economic aggregate, but its development in other fields was seriously lagging behind, and the disparity between the rich and the poor, racial discrimination, corruption, labor protection, environmental pollution, food hygiene and other problems were shocking. George's "Progress and Poverty" kicked off the exposing literature known as the "Scraping Movement", and Sinclair's book "The Slaughterhouse", which exposed the filthy environment of a Chicago meat processing plant, caused an uproar in public opinion, and finally led to a nationwide investigation of meat processing and the enactment of meat inspection laws. These enlightenments tell us that while economic development is carried out, it is necessary to achieve overall coordination with other fields, and social policies and economic policies must be evaluated in order to ensure high-quality economic development.

Use the reversal mechanism to turn crisis into opportunity. In the aftermath of the Lingerie Factory fire in New York, it spurred unprecedented social reforms in American history. On a gloomy afternoon on April 5, 120,000 workers formed a long, silent river that flowed through the heart of Manhattan with heartache. It was a silent march, and there were no slogans except crying. Until then, New Yorkers had not cared about the plight of the workers in these nearby "sweatshops," but the disaster has awakened the conscience of New Yorkers. Subsequently, New York established the 25-member Committee for Improving Workplace Safety. In its first year, the Commission inspected 1,836 workplaces in New York and heard testimonies from 222 individuals. The first four-year term of the committee was widely recognized as the "golden age of factory legislative amendments". It was during this period that the Labour Code was adopted. By 1914, New York had passed 34 laws to improve workers' working conditions and labor safety, based on the Commission's recommendations. The passage of these laws is seen as the most important achievement of the "Progressive Era".

Improve the policy evaluation mechanism and promote institutional changes in depth. After the incident, the New York State Legislature organized a commission of inquiry to conduct an investigation and evaluation, and invited a wide range of people from all walks of life to participate. Between October 1911 and December 1912, 59 hearings were held, 47 eyewitnesses were interviewed, 3,385 workplaces of more than 20 enterprises were investigated, and investigation and evaluation reports were completed. Committee Chairman Wagner later pushed for social security legislation, unemployment insurance, labor compensation, public housing, and the Protection of Trade Coalition in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, in addition to finding the causes, assigning responsibilities, and strictly holding accountable, it is also necessary to carry out policy investigation and evaluation, find loopholes in laws and regulations, comprehensively promote the improvement of the system, and truly draw inferences from one case to prevent the recurrence of the tragedy.

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