Thursday, March 08, 2007

This day in history

International Women's Day (IWD) originated as part of a protest against the abysmal wages and working conditions which women faced in textile factories. On March 8, 1857 women workers in the garment industry in New York City stopped working to draw attention to their conditions; 12-hour days, lack of benefits, sexual harassment, sexual assault on the job, and unfair wages. Three years later women garment and textile workers formed their first union, but conditions did not improve significantly. Fifty years later on March 8, 1908, women once again mobilized to ask for change. This time they were also demanding an end to child labour and lobbying for votes for women.

The protests about working conditions did not move the government to change the labour laws until a fire on March 25, 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 145 women in New York City. They were locked in the building to ensure that they would not take breaks away from their stations even to use the one washroom, which did not work adequately.
Police and onlookers standing by the bodies of women who leapt from the burning building in the Triangle Factory fire, New York City on March 25, 1911:

The factory conditions which led to the deaths of these women were common in the 1,463 sweatshops existing in the garment industry of the time. The women worked in a sea of flammable materials with no sprinkler systems. The fire escapes, which did exist, were accessed by inward opening doors, many of which were locked. Eighty thousand workers marched through a pouring rain to the funeral held for the women who perished.

The government was silent. No laws were immediately changed. The following January 11, 1912, fifteen thousand women garment workers went on strike, demanding shorter working hours, an end to child labour, safe working conditions, and equal pay. Their claim was, “Better to starve fighting than starve working.” The women stayed out on strike for nearly three months.

Their slogan and song – “Bread and Roses” – rang through the streets – bread a symbol of economic security, and roses symbolizing social justice and a better life.

The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912:

Each year on March 8, women around the world take time to reflect on the current status of women and demand equity under the law, safe and equitable working conditions, and freedom from violence in society at large.
Reflect on this, please:
Outrage following more Bangladesh garment worker deaths

Three tragedies hit Bangladesh factories in one week, leaving scores dead, wounded

Hundreds were reported dead or injured following three separate incidents in the Bangladesh garment and textile sector last week, according to various local and international news and Bangladeshi trade union reports. [...]

[...] The spate of tragedies began on Thursday, February 23 when a fire, possibly caused by an electrical short circuit, destroyed the four-story KTS Textile Industries in Bangladesh's port city of Chittagong. Initial reports stated that 54 were killed and at least 60 were injured, however other sources peg the death toll at several hundred in what local garment workers rights' advocates are calling the worst tragedy in the history of the Bangladesh garment industry. Over 1,000 workers were reportedly in the factory at the time of the 7 p.m. fire. According to the workers, the exits were locked. [...]

Garment workers participating in a national strike March 2nd 2006 in Bangladesh to demand justice in the wake of recent deaths and injuries in garment and textile factories:

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?



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