The fire, which took place at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911 in New York City, was one of the greatest tragedies in the history of the city. As a result of this fire, 146 persons were dead, mainly female workers of the factory. The factory was situated in a building which belonged to the Asch company. It was considered that the building was fireproof, but this particular event showed that the fire safety measures were not in order.
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All the exits to stairwells were blocked in order not to allow the workers to leave their working places and as a result, people had to jump from the eighth and ninth floors. In spite of all the efforts of fireguards, they were not successful in quenching a fire because of the high height of the building. The owners of the factory came up for a trial on a charge of the safety rules violation. This terrible accident sparked a public outcry. It is believed that this tragedy has changed American society.
Shortly after the tragedy, there emerged a special committee aiming to audit and control occupational health and safety compliance at factories. Moreover, this incident gave impetus to the activation of the role of labor and womens organizations such as International Ladies Garment Workers Union. The tragedy caught the public attention to the problems of dangerous working conditions at factories and caused the appearance of different laws aiming to guarantee the safety of workers.
Apart from the unfortunate occurrences of this accident, such as the high height of the building and the absence of technical means to smother a fire, the main reason for the tragedy was the fact of the blocked doors (Argersinger 2). Many labor organizations and civic activists were indignant of such culpable negligence. The reason for this negligence was obvious. The owners of the factory were interested in maximum value capture. The doors were locked intentionally in order to make the stuff of the factory work all day long as effectively as possible. Many civil activists and representatives of labor organizations considered it to be the rude violation of human rights. At that time, the problem of the protection of workers rights and a need for reforms were as relevant as ever.
Nevertheless, many outstanding thinkers had another point of view. There were the adherents of the laissez-faire capitalism who stated that the government was not supposed to interfere in economic functions. The main argument of the disciples of this principle was the statement that the economy is a self-regulative system, which finds the effective balance in accordance with its needs. The interference of a state ruins this balance and in such a way, leads to unpredictable consequences. A government, according to this point of view, should perform the role of a night watchman state, protecting their citizens and their property but with minimum interference in their activity.
One of the prominent advocates of this theory is William Graham Sumner. He rejects the role of a state as a social institution, which is able to provide social well-being. He is convinced that a person cannot change the course of history. That is why the effort to reconstruct a new social order is an illusion. Sumner thinks that evolution is an automatic and inevitable process, and all the attempts of reforms of revolutionary transformations are useless. His ideas he expresses in his essay The absurd effort to make the world over. Sumner is against any form of government control over social life. Being one of the most strenuous supporters of the laissez-faire principle, he protects the necessity to sustain the status quo and the need for its development. According to the Sumner, a government is liable to an error by its nature (7).
One of the most prominent and influential figures who may be considered as an opponent to Sumners ideas is Rose Schneiderman. She worked hard since her difficult childhood, and very soon, she understood that labor women needed an organization, which would protect their rights. Schneiderman was a member of the New York Women’s Trade Union League and a strenuous supporter of the idea of reforms. In her speeches, she stated that a laboring woman deserved more than just to survive receiving a minimum wage. She struggled for high standards of life for female workers. Schneiderman also emphasized the problems of social inequality.
Andrew Carnegie, as well as Rose Schneiderman, worked hard at a low wage job since his childhood. However, unlike Schneiderman, Carnegie became an owner of a huge company, and his views on welfare and the necessity of reforms were different as compared with those of Schneidermans. In his article, The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie admits the existence of social inequality. Moreover, he states that in the course of time, this inequality has a tendency to increase. The difference between different social groups is huge. Carnegie explains this inequality by the fact that the natural form of production has been replaced with highly developed industries.
He considers it to be a natural process, which is essential for the development of society. Carnegie not only justifies the existing difference in welfare, but he views it as a benefit for all classes. He compares different social classes from different eras and states that nowadays, a beggar has better living conditions than a king has had in the past. According to Carnegie, it is achieved by means of the development of technologies, and social inequality is an inevitable consequence of such a process. An owner of a big enterprise is subdued to the laws of business competition. In order, his enterprise to be competitive, the owner has to maintain an economy regime reducing wages for his workers and increasing their working house, But Carnegie states that “much better this great irregularity than universal squalor” (1).
Moreover, he gives another argument for the social inequality existence. Carnegie states that there are three ways of wealth distribution. Carnegie is known to be a philanthropist; in particular, he has provided funding to Carnegie Hall in New York. This fact finds its reflection in his article. Carnegie is convinced that a huge amount of money spent on public purposes is more useful for any person than its distribution with small parts.
The problem of social inequality has always been and will always exist in society. No matter what a state structure a country has, the incomes of its citizens cannot be equal. Taking into consideration the above-discussed conflict, it is impossible to make a firm conclusion. It seems to me that both sides are right in their own way. Carnegie and Sumner discuss the issue of welfare and social inequality from the philosophic point of view. Recognizing the injustice of this problem, they, nevertheless, view it as a natural, inevitable process without which the development of society is impossible. Their opponents point of view is also understandable. It is quite natural that every person who works has a right to good living standards.
Argersinger, Jo. The Triangle Fire. A Brief History with Documents. n.d. Web.
Carnegie, Andrew. The Gospel of Wealth. n.d. Web.
Sumner, William. The Absurd Effort to make the world over. n.d. Web.