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Reliving the Lessons of the Past
Author: BobR    Date: 04/25/2013 12:55:33

As mentioned in yesterday's blog by Raine, the disaster at the West, TX fertilizer plant was the result of lax oversight provided by the TX government, and lax adherence to rules by the factory owners. This is all by intention, to hear Governor Rick Perry tell it. This is all part of the Republican mantra - let the free market decide. The factory in TX apparently "free-marketed" itself into a smoldering hole in the ground, taking 35 people with it.

That just seems to be part of the Libertarian "I-got-mine" concept, where everyone is free to grab whatever they can as fast as they can, and who cares who gets stepped on along the way. This is essentially how America operated 100 years ago during the "gilded" age, where children worked long hours at factories, and deaths were common. "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair describes these conditions at meat packing plants in Chicago, but that pattern was repeated everywhere across America. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 resulted in 146 deaths, and the beginning of a turnaround for worker safety.

The lessons of history are lost on the Libertarian mindset that thinks any government regulation is unnecessary, and "gets in the way of doing business". The idea that workplace safety and worker rights protections were arbitrarily created is absurd. We all laugh at the ludicrous warning labels on products, yet these are the direct result of someone doing just that and then suing the company that created the product. There is a cause and effect. This too is the case with regulations on business. Any law or regulation is the direct result of a problem that needed to be fixed, by an event that preceded it.

If a company can't get away with simply ignoring the rules like the fertilizer factory in Texas did, then their other option is to outsource production to other "3rd world" countries where regulations are nearly non-existent, and thus the resultant labor costs are lower. It's unclear how much longer that will be the case, when you have hundreds of thousands of workers in Bangladesh going on strike to protest deaths at a factory:
Hundreds of thousands of garment workers walked out of their factories in Bangladesh Thursday, police said, to protest the deaths of 200 people in a building collapse, in the latest tragedy to hit the sector.

Grief turned to anger as the workers, some carrying sticks, blockaded key highways in at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka, forcing factory owners to declare a day’s holiday.

“There were hundreds of thousands of them,” said Abdul Baten, police chief of Gazipur district, where hundreds of large garment factories are based. “They occupied roads for a while and then dispersed.”

Police inspector Kamrul Islam said the workers had attacked several factories whose bosses had refused to give employees the day off.

“They were protesting the deaths of the workers in Savar,” he said, referring to the town outside Dhaka where Wednesday’s collapse of an eight-storey building housing five garment factories took place, injuring more than 1,000 people.

It's like something out of a Dicken's novel:
Managers had allegedly ignored workers’ warnings that the building had become unstable.

Survivors say the building developed cracks on Tuesday evening, triggering an evacuation of the roughly 3,000 garment workers employed there, but that they had been ordered back to production lines.

In America, unions were the major catalyst for change in the workplace, ushering in 40 hour work weeks, paid overtime, paid vacation time, workplace safety, etc. For now, it looks like that may be the case in our overseas outsourced factory towns as well. The gilded age seems to be replaying all over again, both here and abroad. American business owners have tried to wash their hands of the job losses they create when they outsource production, saying they can't compete when it's so much cheaper to produce the same products in overseas sweatshops. These ongoing horrible avoidable accidents in factories both here and abroad show that they have blood on their hands as a direct result of their greed.

That is something that won't wash off so easily. That is a lesson that the modern factory owner will need to learn.

32 comments (Latest Comment: 04/26/2013 03:16:01 by Will in Chicago)
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