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Like Pakistan

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The Old America that the Tea Party and its corporate backers are crying to bring back was free of tiresome regulations burdening businessmen just trying to create jobs, and maybe make a few pennies of profit. That America was very much like the Pakistan of today.

The news from Karachi last week, of fire sweeping through two sweatshop clothing factories and killing nearly 300 people, many of them trapped behind locked doors and barred windows, immediately brought to mind the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911. One hundred and forty-six garment workers died then, many of them, like their Pakistani successors, trapped behind locked doors. Some leapt from the 10th floor rather than burn.

America changed after the Triangle fire. The lives of working people were deemed to be worth saving henceforth, even if it cost a few dollars. Legislation improving workplace safety was enacted. The fire spurred the growth of labor unions that fought for better working conditions and higher wages. (The Tea Party and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce want to drive unions out of existence. They believe rich bosses should decide unilaterally how and whether poor workers live. They support Mitt Romney.)

It's no cinch that the Karachi fire will bring similar reform to Pakistan, a country famous for its atrocious working conditions and lack of basic safety equipment in factories, a country where the sweatshoppers routinely bribe government inspectors to ignore safety violations. In fact, if the Republicans gain control of Congress and the White House, America will start looking more like Pakistan than the other way around.

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