As We Protect Our Rights, Let’s Honor Early Labor Martyrs
by Gayle Lockett, RC Chair
Allergies permitting, how many of us follow the well-worn but always useful advice of “stop and smell the roses?” And how many of you took it literally? Did you visit the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C., or at the Brooklyn or New York botanical gardens?
As former educators who know the value of keeping an active mind, I know most of you enjoy exploring new places, as well as revisiting old favorites. We try to help in that endeavor through our Education Cultural Program, providing trips around the metropolitan areas to explore mansions, gardens, restaurants, and galleries from a number of angles. Sometimes we’re in cooking classes; sometimes we’re searching for edible weeds in Central Park!
On May 13 -14, 14 RC members led by Richard Oppenheimer, our legislative liaison, will visit legislators in Albany. The fight to maintain our benefits is an ongoing one at the city, state and national level. Vigilence is the keyword for us.
That is why we encourage all our retirees in the tri-state area as well as around the country to become involved in their local and state politics, and support those candidates who support labor. (For updates, read the AFSA and ARA newsletters.)
In always looking ahead to protect what we have, we should never forget the battles and tragedies that shaped labor’s history. On March 25, CSA Historian Manny Korman and I represented CSA at the 13th annual dinner by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial. The dinner marked the end of the year’s fundraising campaign, and including this year, the organization has raised more than $400,000 for college scholarships for children of injured workers.
The horrendous fire on March 25, 1911, took 146 lives. The owners of the factory were acquitted of criminal charges and paid a paltry $75 per deceased victim as a result of a civil suit. That’s a slap on the wrist even taking into account inflation. (The owners actually made money because the insurance company paid them more than the losses they suffered.)
The tragedy did, however, ignite public outrage, and that ultimately led to legislation concerning worker safety, work-week hours, fire regulations and safety codes.
It is tragic beyond words that the fire, building and public safety codes we take for granted had to be fought for as if they were unreasonable demands, and that so-called “reasonable men” repeatedly fought against making these changes. It remains tragic that in this nation, we still have work places that reflect this disdain for human life. I urge all of you to take advantage of the benefits you have through CSA and the Welfare Fund because they were not cheaply earned.
This column is reprinted from the May 2014 issue of the CSA News.