Two views of the nature of workers’ struggles in the United States appeared in this paper on two consecutive days.

On March 23, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recounted the tragic story of 146 women and girls, poor workers in a New York City sweatshop in 1911. They all died in a fire while working, with unsafe working conditions a major factor.

Frances Perkins witnessed the fire, and this experience helped mold her approach to workers’ rights when she became secretary of labor 22 years later.

Solis also describes abusive sweatshop conditions in her home state of California in 1995. Her words, “History is an extraordinary thing. You can choose to learn from it, or you can repeat it,” were still fresh in my mind the next day.

On March 24, an article appeared regarding Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to remove a mural depicting the history of working women and men in Maine.

Fortunately for us, Maine’s history does not include women leaping to their death from a burning building, though if it did it might have made it harder to remove the mural.


The link between the two articles is Frances Perkins. One of the rooms in the Maine Department of Labor building is named for Frances Perkins and is one of the rooms to be renamed.

Another was named for Cesar Chavez, who devoted his life to improving the lot of the poorest farmworkers of California. He worked to improve their lives in such basic ways as preventing exposure to toxic pesticides and demanding that minimum wages actually be paid. His name apparently is offensive to someone.

I for one cannot imagine that a business owner in Maine would be offended by the names of Americans who worked to improve the lives of the poorest among us.

David R. Austin


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