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Reflection and a conclusion on a 100th anniversary

March 24, 2011 - Mike Maneval
Friday will be an excellent day for reflection, as March 25 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire claimed the lives of 146 factory workers, nearly all women, most teenage girls. The women were unable to escape because of their employers' long-standing policy of locking the workforce in. In the wake of the disaster, a report by WYNC radio says New York state adopted 36 new regulations regarding industrial safety - not to meddle in free enterprise or encourage germination of excessive government power, as so many ideological demagogues today insinuate or flat-out claim when discussing policies that expanded government oversight, but to ensure that the rights of labor to life and liberty were preserved - life and liberty the free markets failed to protect.

As the accounting of the tragic day a century ago at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations' website notes, such failure was not uncommon - daily casualties from workplace conditions numbered greater than 100. The shirtwaist makers put in 13-hour days, seven days a week, earning about $6 a week. As the young women whose toiling put clothing on America's backs aged, they moved no closer to a role in self-governance - women were denied the right to vote, as were blacks and others. The women of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire did flirt with unionization in the years just before the fire - both for better wages and hours and to rectify the lockdowns that would eventually cost 146 of them their lives. But the threat of blacklisting - of penalizing hard-working Americans for exercising their God-given freedoms to speak and assemble with hiring - and of brutal beatings by employer-hired thugs made unionization a risk itself.

This anniversary should provide every American with ample opportunity for reflection, and also, bluntly, for conclusion. In the past several years we have heard cautions and warnings that the growth of government somehow threatens the freedom of men and women - in the past ten years, according to, the federal government accounts for between 32.5 and 39.97 percent of our gross domestic product. Today, American workers enjoy an unprecedented level of safety, preserving their capacity to enjoy their constitutional liberties. Americans - regardless of gender or race - also enjoy the right to vote.

When women and black men couldn't vote, and when the right to life God granted working women was subject to veto by cost-cutting employers - when the freedom of men and women was truly under assault - the federal government accounted for 8.31 percent of gross domestic spending. On this 100th anniversary, it is time for Americans to conclude that a large and capable government is not what threatens their liberties.


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