WOS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S CONFERENCE REPORT

From Sue Romano–Local 3657 Delegate to the 2013 Women of Steel Conference and Former President of USW Local 3657.

Thank you to the Executive Board and Membership of Local 3657 for allowing me to represent our local at the 2013 WOS Conference; it is always an honor and a privilege.

 

The success of our Stuffed Purse collection drive was incredible, delegates turned out with hundreds of purses being donated for women who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy and other tragedies. It was an awesome experience to be a member of our local that inspired so many to participate in this hugely successful drive.

 

This was an amazing conference with over 800 registered delegates and guests from the countries of Nigeria, the UK, Mexico and others. The Conference was exciting from the beginning when the national anthems of both the United States & Canada were played, to the end when delegates joined together in singing Solidarity Forever.

Although there is much I could share about the guests, speeches and workshops, I’d like to share with you the account of the plight of women and children workers in the sweatshops of Bangladesh which was told to us by Barbara Briggs of The National Labor Committee (also known as the Institute for Global & Human Rights), led by Charlie Kernaghan.

 

In December 2010, 29 workers were killed and more than 100 were injured

at the Hameem factory in Bangladesh, where workers made clothing for

GAP, Phillips-Van Heusen, JC Penney, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target. The

workers where at lunch on the 11th floor when they smelled smoke.  They

moved toward the exit, but the flames were too strong, the smoke unbearable;

they ran to the other side of the building trying to get to the exits on the west

side, when they got there the exits were L O C K E D! There was nowhere

for them to escape, they were trapped. Women and children started jumping

off the 11th floor in their efforts to escape the flames; workers below thought

they were bales of clothing being thrown out of the windows. Five

children’s bodies were burned beyond recognition.

 

This horrific incident in Bangladesh mirrors the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York where 129 women and 7 men were murdered when a fire broke out in the factory. Exit doors were locked, stairways were impassable; women jumped down elevator shafts, others threw themselves out windows or jumped to their death from the roof top where they went to escape the flames. 146 workers were murdered that day.

 

100 years later we continue to have the same horrible tragedies; in the garment industry this means women and children. It is greed that drives these tragedies. We need our voices to be heard – as long as women and children are working in unsafe factories where abominable conditions exist, our members will be there to support them. Please don’t shop at stores that refuse to guarantee working women and children safe working conditions and a living wage.

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