Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Monday, February 27, 2012

A Memorial to a Forgotten Time

Flesh and Blood So Cheap:  The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Alfred Marrin
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City occurred on March 25, 1911, and was the deadliest work disaster until the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001.  The details about that day are stunning:  146 workers died, most young immigrant women; many leaped to their death from ten floors up rather than being burned alive; no one man or business was ever charged with wrongdoing concerning the fire--indeed, the owners collected heavily on the insurance; on the day of the funeral, nearly 400,000 watched the procession; the funeral procession lasted almost 6 hours.  And, as horrific as those images and words are, the living and working condition of the American worker at that time in history is even more so.

This is more than just a story of a workplace tragedy and the factory conditions that caused it.  This is a story of immigrant America and all those women whose hard work allows me the freedom I have today.  This is more than a good book to read--it is an important book to read and to recommend and to remember. The author did an incredible job of tying together a tapestry of important political and historical threads in order to make the story so much more relevant.  I've read several books and articles about this topic but none touched me so deeply as this one.

After reading about the social and living conditions of those immigrants, it seems so very spoiled to complain about Social Security, pension, work breaks, etc.  How soon, as a nation, we forget our history.  This book very clearly establishes what unions were created for--the protection of the workers and while I was not necessarily pro-union before reading this book, now I very much more understand the great need there has been for a unionized work force.  Before complaining one more word about your job, read this book. 

The title of the book comes from this quote by Jacob Riis, "That bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap." To think that these young women could be treated so heinously is almost beyond belief. And yet, it is our history. Thanks to the author for that reminder.

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