America searched for an answer to "The Labor Question" during the Progressive Era in an effort to avoid the unrest and violence that flared so often in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the ladies' garment industry, a unique experiment in industrial democracy brought together labor, management, and the public. As Richard Greenwald explains, it was an attempt to "square free market capitalism with ideals of democracy to provide a fair and just workplace." Led by Louis Brandeis, this group negotiated the "Protocols of Peace." But in the midst of this experiment, 146 mostly young, immigrant women died in the Triangle Factory Fire of 1911. As a result of the fire, a second, interrelated experiment, New York's Factory Investigating Commission (FIC) - led by Robert Wagner and Al Smith - created one of the largest reform successes of the period. The Triangle Fire, the Protocols of Peace, and Industrial Democracy in Progressive Era New York uses these linked episodes to show the increasing interdependence of labor, industry, and the state. Greenwald explains how the Protocols and the FIC best illustrate the transformation of industrial democracy and the struggle for political and economic justice.
The book is published by Temple University Press.
What would have made The Triangle Fire, Protocols of Peace, and Industrial Democracy in Progressive Era New York better?
1. Substance - The author's source material clearly drives the narrative here, such that he almost never comes up for air to give us a sense of the bigger picture. Giant sections of the book read like minutes of meetings, with names and positions and organizations (easily forgotten) that lack analysis or argument that might give them a framework.
2. Narrator. Seriously terrible, almost funny reader. Dull and pedantic.
What was most disappointing about Richard Greenwald’s story?
There is this great potential in the beginning, where Greenwald lays out the garment industry , the system of sweating labor, some of the details of exploitation in the factory that give a glimmer of vitality... and then we disappear into long, boring chapters on who led which organization, names and dates and such that are a stereotype of history as mere facts, rather than a discipline that makes and substantiates arguments, illustrates scenes, and analyses facts with engaging scrutiny.
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Tom Kruse?
Almost anyone else.