Go Die in a Fire

101 years ago, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire horrified a nation; the initial shock of seeing young women leap to their deaths from the inferno was quickly eclipsed by the exposure of the deadly conditions under which they worked; blocked and locked exits, lack of fire escapes, buildup of flammable material, and dangerous machinery all pointed to one conclusion:  the utter indifference to human life in the sweatshop factories that made America’s clothes.

And for a while, it seemed as though these women hadn’t died in vain.  In New York and across the country, fire codes were made more stringent almost immediately; it took longer for the nascent labor movement to improve wages, hours, and working conditions, but soon garment workers (except those in Dixie, natch…), acquired a modicum of dignity and safety for their grueling, thankless work.  Similar disasters in other notoriously dangerous industries led to similar, if sometimes halting, reforms.  Though mining and oil rig explosions continued to occur with thudding regularity, incinerating more than a dozen of one’s employees was considered unseemly enough to be avoided, even if it meant shaving a nickel or two off profits here and there.

The last five years have shown us that those days are over.  Mining accidents caused by the grossest mismanagement can kill a dozen or two with no corporate criminal liability whatsoever, much less meaningful reforms.  Murray Energy, which killed its workers by having them remove for sale the columns of coal that supported the mine itself, is still in business; its eponymous CEO is a Republican (would be) kingmaker.  BP’s CEO went sailing after barbequeing a little under 20 oil rig workers and suffering no greater indignity than a discreet golden parachute.   Don Blankenship, whose scandalously unsafe Upper Big Branch mine blew 27 miners to kingdom come, did have to step down, but walked away a free, rich teabagger.

For the very wealthy, whatever disincentive briefly existed to killing lots of people in the pursuit of even greater wealth seems to have gone the way of the Republican Cloth Coat; indifference to human suffering and even death has long plagued the parasitic rich, be they slaveholders, Gilded Age plutocrats, or our current crop.  This is the bitter fruit of wealth concentration; the very fact that some people “earn” hundreds or thousands of times what everyone else does leads these same people to believe that they are worth that much more.   Over the weekend, Carly Fiorina, whose catastrophic tenure at Hewlett-Packard cost 18,00 people their jobs and netted her $42 million, wailed without a trace of irony about how “unfair” it is that public employees are “so rich.”  HP stockholders, of course, must rue the the day that that poor girl decided not to become a bus driver, where she might have contributed something to society, rather than wantonly depleting their portfolios.

But given the positive correlation of net worth over any useful amount and moral depravity, you have to understand, if not forgive, the Walton Heirs. This motley crew of lucky sperm club good-for-nothings, with more wealth between them than 40% of their nominal home country, is all but obligated these days to pile up the corpses, if only to hold their heads up high at the Kentucky Derby.   At home, the methods are more subtle: keeping workers too poor and desperate to be uppity with slave wages and unpredictable part time hours that all but preclude a second job, denying them health care and sick leave to ensure they are unhealthy, and most importantly, setting a third-world standard that forces competitors and suppliers alike in an inexorable race to the bottom for all workers.  But abroad, they can really let their freak flags fly.

While it is true that companies like Apple and Nike also exploit overseas labor, and often quite shockingly, each company has a domestic core of knowledge-based employees that are deemed worthy of respect by upper management; competitive pressures for attracting talented employees alone prevent them from dipping their toes too deeply into slavery and mass murder.  Not so Walmart.  Outside the corporate office, everyone is considered a needless drain on profits, and treated accordingly.  At home this means full time managers with more than a decade at the company are still eligible for public assistance; in Bangladesh, it means 112 human beings being slaughtered, many burned beyond recognition,* in what was called in the “quaint” 19th century a “satanic mill.”

As you’d expect, one of Walmart’s understandably overworked crisis PR teams was quick to issue a non-denial denial that the factory was part of Walmart’s supply chain “at the moment.”    Too bad for Walmart, is was precisely the wrong moment, following closely on the heels of a pitched labor dispute and yet another vulgar and violence-tainted Black Friday.

We may soon find out how many deaths, in our Ayn Rand era, is too many.  Or not.

*The lawyers must be delighted with that little factoid….





  1. michlib says:

    It’s too bad the Blankenships, Murrays, and Waltons of the world haven’t figured out that the immiseration of their employees is what has made their lifestyles possible. Talk about ” makers ” and ” takers ” ! As a breathing, vulnerable, flesh and blood human, you can qualify, if needed, for welfare – but only for five years in one lifetime. As a corporation, your welfare deal is a little, shall we say, more indulgent.
    How long has the oil depletion allowance been used by the richest extractive bidnesses ? Mitt head was wrong – corporations are not people – they’re SUPERHUMAN. Able to own others of their own kind, declare bankruptcy and renege on all obligations ( try that one – weak human ! ), defer taxation for millenia. Ironic that they cloak most of their ” personhood ” in the 13th amendment – passed to protect the rights of freed slaves, but most often invoked to protect oligarchy. Move to amend, amen.

    • cocktailhag says:

      To say the game is rigged is kind of like saying hookers are easy; not really good or bad, but merely inevitable. It’s just accepted at all levels that way. You should have seen David Gregory nodding approvingly at ol’ Carly. (Never mind… it would have made you vomit, or worse, so I’ll spare you the link).

  2. nswfm says:

    Thank goodness I missed seeing that if she was on David Gregory. Jeebus, some of these rich bastards give bastards a bad name. I’m just mean enough to outlive them and deface their obituaries. Looking forward to scratching their eyes out and drawing in horns in their newspaper photos. I’ve got a lot of practice from 2000-2008.

    h/t to WilliamBanzai7

    • cocktailhag says:

      The Fiorina clip was so revolting I elected not to embed it. She blamed tuition costs on ovrpaid public employees, too, rather than the actual causes of reduced state funding and overpaid administrators.
      Why that dumb, despicable woman is still on TV, I’ll never know.

  3. RUKidding says:

    Hoo boy: thanks for not linking to horrid, hateful, nasty Carly Fiorina. Why anyone ever has her on their show is beyond my comprehension.

    Fiorina slept her way to the top – and I really don’t like pin that rap on women unless it’s true. Fiorina ran Lucent into the ground before being crowned the Empress of Everything at HP. I used to know well some HP workers during the reign of error of Empress Carly. It was something to behold how she swanned around, demanding a corporate jet & having all this PR about how fantastic she was.

    She made bad decision after bad decision. Off-shored 18000 US worker jobs to the third world mainly to pay for her crappy decisions. Finally HP heirs had to step in to oust her as HP stock plummeted by a whopping 60%. Full disclosure: I’ve owned HP stock for several decades, so I, too, LOST out big-time due to La Fiorina.

    To pour salt in the wound Fiorina pranced off with her $42mill golden parachute, leaving everyone else in the lurch.

    That this PARASITE has the nerve to *complain* about public sector workers being “paid too much” or whatever is just so far beyond the pale.

    I never understood why my rightwing friends were so “in love” with Empress Carly when she ran for Senator from CA. All I heard from them was how she had this great “business acumen.” The woman couldn’t manage her way out of a wet paper bag with a hole in either end! Fiorina slept her way to the top & then proved just how uselessly inept and inadequate she was for the job. Yet I was told that La Fiorina was going to be this fantabulous Senator who would lead us all to the promised land. Puh-leeze.

    Carly is just *jealous* of public sector workers because she wanted to become one, herself, but after throwing away $millions (some of it MY money from HP stock!!!) to try to BUY her way into the Senate, she got burned big time. Har de har har. Yes, Empress Carly is *just jealous* because she didn’t get to grab yet another fatted calf in the form of a US Senate salary, perks, benefits, etc, including a platinum-plated pension & health care benefits for the rest of her greedy, grubbing, parasitic, nasty, shitty life.

    Per usual with Fiorina & her rightwing supporters: IOKIYAR to get on the government gravy train. It’s just not “OK” if some peons actually get paid a living wage at their gov’t jobs. Heaven forfend!

    As you can tell, I definitely danced a happy dance when that miserable POS LOST big time to Barbara Boxer. I’ll get off the ranting soap box now.

    The fire in Bangladesh is just the tip of the iceberg of how workers are treated these days. There will be no consequences for the greedy, grubbing, parasitic, nasty Walton tribe. I supported the WalMart strikes on so-called “Black Friday” in various ways, but far too many US citizens are strapped these days. So they’re more or less forced to shop in places like WalMart. I don’t blame them, but it would be helpful if US peons started recognizing that we’re only a tiny step away from fates similar to those of the workers in the Walmart Factory in Bangaladesh.

    No doubt Fiorina believes that those Bangaladeshi’s who made it out of the factory fire alive should be genuflecting to the greedheaded Walton tribe for being ever so gracious in providing them with “employment.”


    • cocktailhag says:

      Sadly in defeat as well as victory, every day is Plutocrat Pride day; especially on David Gregory’s execrable show. All present nodded in sympathy with Fiorina’s lament. I wanted to hurl.

  4. avelna says:

    I hope Fiorina will be largely remembered for the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” political ad – one of the stupidest ads ever. Not that it will trouble her, of course.

    And then there’s the bankers – wailing about how we have just got to cut “entitlements” to save the economy. You would think that these a**holes would figure out that eventually they’re going to start losing out too when there’s no one left to buy their lousy products and services.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, the banksters have already dipped their toes into payday lending, and are only going after Social Security because it’s the last big pile of money left lying around, after their latest plunders. They have no Plan B, yet we’re forced to listen to their “wisdom.”

  5. mikeinportc says:

    Worrying about the fate of workers is sooooo anachronistically quaint, and wasteful. No more of that (short-term) unprofitable sentimentality. Besides, they’yre not A-Mericans.
    Btw, I wonder if they had dead peasant insurance on them. The fire could actually prove profitable for the uber-bastards.
    As for the Triangle fire , even that wasn’t enough, at the time, to ensure more than lip service paid safety issues, in many places. The incident below happened about a decade later . (I remembered it, because I used to have to take care of a couple graves near the workers’ memorial monument.) Note that that turn-of-the-century commie/hippie, George F. Johnson actually did something substantial, in response. Can’t afford profligate soft-headedness like that anymore. ;(


    • cocktailhag says:

      Ah, that dead peasant insurance. Would I love to meet the MBA that came up with that. Interesting story; there were at least fire alarms, though, which must have been new. Mostly, better fire codes came along not because human life became more valuable, but because the machinery did, so insurance companies demanded it.

  6. Ché Pasa says:

    Our Betters seem to get their jollies from ever greater levels of human sacrifice when you right down to it. The scent of charred flesh is a savour unto them…