Appelbaum Ties Shirtwaist To Living Wage Campaign

arton713 Appelbaum Ties Shirtwaist To Living Wage CampaignOne-hundred years ago today a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in the West Village claimed the lives of 146 garment workers and led to the adoption in New York City of 36 new labor laws.

Today, a number of elected officials including Sen. Chuck Schumer, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn are gathering in front of the former site of the factory for a commemoration, and they will be greated by another call to strengthen labor laws.

According to prepared remarks obtained by The Politicker, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union head Stuart Appelbaum will tie the Triangle disaster to today’s fight over living wage. The legislation is slated to get a public hearing in the City Council next month. Speaker Quinn has not stated her position on the bill. A number of progressive Council members have already declared their support for it. Mayor Bloomberg has spoken out against this, and similar bills.

“The most important tribute to Triangle is offered not in words but in deeds: elected officials must ensure that government continues to protect and improve the lives of all working people,” Appelbaum says. “That means standing up for a living wage so that countless working New Yorkers no longer feel condemned to poverty, but instead can finally get closer to achieving the kind of economic security they need and deserve.”

And Appelbaum adds:

“Here in New York, as we push to regulate Wall Street, as we push to establish living wages in subsidized developments, as we push to make lives better for today’s largely immigrant workforce, the same forces – the Real Estate Board, the proponents of unregulated markets, the free traders — that opposed government regulation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a century ago are opposing us now.”

Backers of a living wage have been pushing for a bill that would require businesses in new developments that receive city subsidies to pay a living wage of $10 per hour, plus benefits. Advocates are beginning a major push on the measure, arguing that it has broader economic benefits since the bill would spread taxpayer dollars beyond wealthy developers who build with city subsidized incentives.

Appelbaum has been out front on the measure but his remarks today, which essentially compare elected officials who ignore the calls for a living wage to those elected officials who ignored calls for workplace reforms 100 years ago, are the furthest he has gone on the matter.

Full remarks from Appelbaum below:

 

On behalf of the Jewish Labor Committee, whose roots are anchored here, on this hallowed ground, I say that the 146 innocent garment workers – mostly women, mostly Jewish and Italian, mostly immigrant – who perished in the Triangle Fire did not die in vain.

It took their deaths to bring about meaningful government intervention to regulate business, and to respect the call of workers struggling to secure the benefits of union membership.

Many of our grandparents and great grandparents played a critical role in building a strong and vibrant labor movement with the hope that it would endure and remain a permanent feature of American life. Through their actions and their struggle, our lives, and the lives of all Americans were made better.

Today, those hard fought gains are under threat in communities across the United States by those who seek to go back to the time of 1911, when there was little government regulation of business and few unions.

Here in New York, as we push to regulate Wall Street, as we push to establish living wages in subsidized developments, as we push to make lives better for today’s largely immigrant workforce, the same forces – the Real Estate Board, the proponents of unregulated markets, the free traders — that opposed government regulation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a century ago are opposing us now.

Today, as the leader of the Jewish Labor Committee and President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, I pledge to continue the struggle that the Triangle Fire sparked on this day a century ago.

The most important tribute to Triangle is offered not in words but in deeds: elected officials must ensure that government continues to protect and improve the lives of all working people. That means standing up for a living wage so that countless working New Yorkers no longer feel condemned to poverty, but instead can finally get closer to achieving the kind of economic security they need and deserve.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The moral arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Brothers and sisters, may we never lose our sense of outrage at injustice around us!

Thank you.