Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day - 2011

This is a sweatshop on Ludlow Street on New York's Lower East Side. The photograph was taken by Jacob Riis. If any of the workers are smiling, it's only due to the novelty of having their pictures taken. These folks made pants for the princely sum of 45 cents per dozen. Imagine the time it took to accomplish this!

To make matters more clear, remember that this photo was taken in someone's home. That's right, this family, or group of immigrants, were working, living, eating and sleeping in this apartment, which probably contained one other room, with no windows at all, and a toilet in the backyard. The Public Baths were located on Grand Street. They worked 6 days a week, for about 12 hours per day. All of them split the 45 cents per dozen for the completed work. Just how many dozen do you think were made per day by this 5 person team working from scratch? Perhaps 2 dozen per day? That means that these 5 adults were working for a combined total of $5.40 per week.

When I grew up in New York, the city, as most of the nation, was largely free of these sweat shops. The workers had organized into Unions, demanding better wages and working conditions. Gone were the days of the Triangle Shirt Waist Factory, with it's locked doors, leading to the deaths of so many of the women who worked there when fire broke out. Gone was the sign that read - "If you don't come in on Sunday- then don't come in on Monday." As a child of the 1950's, and the Middle Class, these things are unimaginable to me. That is, until I look down at my sneakers.

Unions are almost dead, and sweatshops exist everywhere in the world today. My sneakers were probably made in one somewhere in China, or Malaysia, or Mexico; in short, they probably come from anywhere that people are desperate for work, and there are others willing to exploit that need for profit. These children are working at a brick "factory" in Asia.

Even back on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where much of the Labor Movement began, there are sweatshops once more. In the last 30 years we have been moving backwards in regards to Worker's Rights. Everywhere in the world today, there are factories, and sweatshops, which employ the most destitute of the working class, as well as illegal immigrants, under conditions which make the older photo, by Mr. Riis, look good. Think about this when you are out shopping today for all of the Labor Day Sales.

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