Review: Flesh and Blood So Cheap

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin. Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

It’s About: The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, that resulted in the deaths of 146 women. Marrin places the Fire within the context of the immigration and labor; turn of the century sweatshops and factories; unions and workers rights; and the current status, world wide, of the garment industry.

The Good: My introduction to the Fire was a 1979 made-for-television movie, The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal. I still have nightmares. Later, the case was mentioned in law school in the context of the legal defense of the factory owners provided by Max Steuer. (Nutshell: acquittal in the criminal case, in part because of the testimony of the survivors which sounded rehearsed because, well, with English not being their first language, it probably was.) A visit a few years ago to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum illustrated just how different the lives of those who lived over a hundred years ago is from my life: the poverty, the close quarters, the conditions of the sweat shops within these tiny tenements.

Imagine — a fifty-two hour work week is a “win” for the labor movement. I am thankful to not live a hundred years ago. Before the reader can feel smug about “now” being better than “then,” Marrin informs the reader of current factory conditions in other countries that are far from safe. “Short memories are dangerous, because they allow greed to take control.” There are no simple answers; but there is knowledge, such as the information that Marrin provides in Flesh & Blood So Cheap. And then, to further bring home that safe labor and the right to a safe workplace is a world issue, not a country or state or town issue, I saw someone link to Slavery Footprint on Twitter. It’s sobering, to see that “then” is “now,” “there” is “here,” and “they” are “us.”

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