Sunday, May 5, 2013

And History Repeats Itself at the Rana Plaza

(The old Dominion textile plant in St. Henri is now a condo. In Perth Ontario there's a gentrified old mill advertised with the line From Factory to Fabulous. I have invented the line From Sweatshop to Sensational" for this place :)

The May 4 digital edition of the New York Times had a slew of interesting and scary and scary/interesting stories.

The one that particularly caught my eye:



The collapse of the factory building in Bangladesh (Rana Plaza) can serve as a catalyst for change in the textile industry. 
Some of the people involved in this tragic event were involved in making my clothing!

Well, I have one item of Joe Fresh clothing, a little green tee-shirt. It's somewhere in one of my bedroom drawers. I hardly ever wear it. In fact I'm not sure if it still is in the house. Maybe it got swept up in one of my household 'cleansings' and put in a giant plastic bag of unwanted clothes and given to 'the poor' or to a recycling company.

On the news the other day, I heard a Loblaw's shareholder say the dreaded words:"It's Ok to make a profit but we have to be socially responsible, too." Or something much like that.

(I once knew a person who traded the stock market. I mentioned ethical trading to her and she scoffed at the idea. She said she'd invest in anything to make money and then when rich she'd give to charity.)

Salon today has an article about corporations hoping to get rich on global warming.

Profiting from human misery (that is mostly out of sight) is one thing: profiting from the apocalypse. Geez as in Jesus.
(Shirtwaists were tailored blouses, the signature fashion item of thew new working woman. Some were worn with ties.)

Anyway, I opened this NYT editorial wondering if the editors mentioned the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, the fire that spawned the US Union Movement.

Yes, they did.

As the kicker.

I had never heard about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire until I started researching Threshold Girl, a story of a college student, Flora Nicholson of Richmond Quebec, in 1911/1912 based on the Nicholson Family letters.

I ended up using the Triangle Shirtwasit Factory fire as a catalyst for the story.

Flora and her sisters were New Women of the era, middle class women who loved to wear the lastest fashions. They made their own clothes for the most part, but as the Eaton's Catalogue of the era reveals, middle class women were starting to buy ready-made clothing.

In my story I have Flora meet up with a Miss Gouin, (a milliner's apprentice) who has relations in Magog, most of whom work at the Dominion Textile Plant there, and some of who are union activists.

She tells Flora about the little girls who work the big dangerous machines, and who sometimes lose their fingers.

Just recently I learned that Suffragette Annie Kenney was a girl who lost a finger working in a Yorkshire textile mill.

Here's an excerpt from Threshold Girl, which I wrote specifically to get young women to think about where their clothes come from.

Miss Gouin, sensing that she is losing her listener, figuratively and literally, collects herself for a moment, and starts over.

"Last week more than 100 women, they died when their factory caught on fire. In New York City. They make shirtwaist blouses for the big stores de-part-e-ment.  Someting catch fire. They could not get out, the doors were lock. So they jump out of da …window…to live! Des immigrants. From la Russe et Italie. Les Juives. Jetés par les fenêtres. 6th floor. They put them on the sidewalk, the dead, women, girls. Three of the dead girls, no relatives come to get them.”

How do you know this? Flora asks.

"Everyone knows this in my family," says the French girl.  And she humbly lowers her eyes. "I’m from Magog. Where everyone work at l’usine de la filature du coton.. Magog.  Connaissez-vous cette ville, cette fabrique?"

Flora’s blank stare is an answer in itself.

"Filature coton. The Cot-ton Factory."

Of course, Flora knows about Magog and the Dominion Textile Plant, but the rest, all the Shirtwaist Fire business, is news to her, and the Nicholsons get all the newspapers.

Not that she ever reads them, but her Mother does.

And then Margaret cuts out all the important stories, about the English suffragettes and such, and posts them on her old cork 'recipe' board in the kitchen.

I guess Mother didn’t find the shirtwaist story important, thinks Flora. Or she found it too sad.

What has a bunch of girls in the United States, foreign girls, Italian and Russian girls, les Juives, have to do with us, anyway?