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Old Yesterday, 02:07 PM   #76
CRussel
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I want to go back and address this earlier comment.

I absolutely do not see any moral equivalence between some powerless breadwinner choosing to stay silent so as not to jeopardize his job and his family, and a thriving company blithely continuing to endanger the health and well-being of its workers to maximize profits. No.
Well said. The relationship of forces here is wildly different and the actions and their effects can not be compared.

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I did wonder if everyone was going to let me get away with that uncontested
No chance that was going to happen!

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So the people that are acting to protect the corporation are not necessarily acting for evil or selfish purposes, many are attempting to do the best they can for the company because that best for the employees and customers and shareholders.

None of this is arguing that the company should not be held responsible for their actions, but it is useful to keep in mind that there are real people behind the corporate mask that will pay the actual costs.
Sorry, not good enough. The company that can't do business without torturing and maiming its employees, shouldn't be doing business. And if it fails, those shareholders will pay the risk side of the equation, as they should. There is a tendency (can you say "too big to fail") to think we should somehow protect the company and its shareholders. Wrong. The company is an at risk business and the shareholders took that risk when they bought shares. The employees, however, have not taken on risk when they hired on, in fact the opposite. They don't control their working conditions and have only a single option to protect themselves -- withdrawing their labour. But if they're repeatedly told that there is no risk and they're perfectly safe, how are they to make an informed decision?
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Old Yesterday, 04:45 PM   #77
Catlady
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I did wonder if everyone was going to let me get away with that uncontested
Almost! I had read your comment before finishing the book, and didn't want to respond till I was done; then I nearly forget.

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There is a regrettable tendency for people to see companies as things with no human side, that can stand there and part with money with no ill effects, or if there are ill effects they are seen as deserved - never quite acknowledging the fact that those effects have a real cost that someone has to pay.

In this case the companies obviously had the resources that they could have helped these women, although at some point the insurance companies get involved and things get extra messy. In situations like this there is a real risk that a company might collapse - not necessarily because of what it pays out, but because of reputation loss and related factors. The impacts of this hits management, employees - the man I was speaking of might lose his job anyway - and shareholders (who are not necessarily rich people that can afford the loss).

So the people that are acting to protect the corporation are not necessarily acting for evil or selfish purposes, many are attempting to do the best they can for the company because that best for the employees and customers and shareholders.

None of this is arguing that the company should not be held responsible for their actions, but it is useful to keep in mind that there are real people behind the corporate mask that will pay the actual costs.
The "real people" who are paying the actual costs are the workers and the consumers. Costs simply get passed along to those on the bottom rungs.

But let me try to understand your argument. You seem to be saying that it's perhaps OK for a company to endanger the lives of its employees, because trying to avoid/correct that danger might be expensive and threaten the livelihoods of even more employees.

I suspect that companies and industries have probably pushed back against every safety regulation ever proposed by saying it was too much cost for too little potential benefit, by calling it unnecessary and intrusive.
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Old Yesterday, 10:41 PM   #78
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The problem with pulling a particular piece of a post out for discussion is that you lose the original context - the result being that people pretend to paraphrase what you are saying and end up misrepresenting it entirely. Remember that much of this started with a line I was drawing between before and after June 1924. The intention of that comment was to explore what Kate Moore seems happy to ignore: that there are real people involved on the company side and they had their reasons for acting like they did. At the start, at least, those motives were not necessarily immoral, nor even amoral.

Being rich doesn't stop a person being afraid for their future. Being powerful doesn't necessarily mean they don't care, sometimes it just means that they have more to care about - so much more that they don't always see what they should see. Personally, I think outright evil is a rare thing, but ordinary everyday evil is common - and behind this you generally find ordinary, everyday, and very human frailties of the kind that you can understand (not saying condone) if you try hard enough.

Everyone here seems to enthusiastically agree with the idea that this book is a good fit for the history repeating itself theme, and even I agree with that sentiment, but for a different reason: the book itself demonstrates why we keep repeating ourselves, because we refuse to try and see that the other side behaved as they did for a reason, or a variety of reasons.

Trying to find and understand those reasons could help us see how things got so out of hand. By the time we get into court it's too late to be analysing the situation. By then the beast has taken on a life of its own, with lawyers and journalists and reputations all embroiled in scoring points off one another, but with little respect or care for truth or for the suffering of the women.


At no point have I suggested that it was "OK for a company to endanger the lives of its employees", or that a business should be allowed to be "torturing and maiming its employees", and I really wish people would stop putting such phrases in my mouth. I do understand that this is an emotional issue, and I understand that this book has exacerbated that, but please give me some credit.

What I have suggested is that the company had no way, before 1924, of seeing that it was endangering lives in this way*. Before that the known dangers were immediate ones, and the women showed no signs of being impacted by those. Once the long term dangers were known of course situation must be corrected - but the confrontational nature of litigation was always going to make this draw out and bring out the worst.


* Disclaimer: I want to emphasise that my suggestion about when the long term dangers were known is based on the "facts" revealed in this book so far, but I don't have a lot of faith in those facts. The author may reveal more by the time I reach the end, or there may be facts the author didn't think were appropriate to her audience
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Old Yesterday, 11:26 PM   #79
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Good points gmw, and ones to bear in mind when we are dealing with a topic like this one. I think it is important to distinguish between what we know now and what was known then, ie 1924.

However, as the book progresses, there is less and less excuse for the claim that the managers didn't know, even allowing for the world being a more isolated place in terms of the availability of such information.

The workers in Ottawa, Illinois, probably didn't read or even have available the New York newspapers, but it is hard to believe that the Ottawa management didn't have at least some idea of what had happened in New Jersey.

(Sorry to be slightly vague, but I had to return the book to the library, so don't have it in front of me to check timing.)
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Old Today, 12:55 AM   #80
gmw
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Thanks, Bookpossum. I'm still in part 2 and the first case has been settled and the girls are spending their money. The Ottawa girls got a fright from that case but have apparently been appeased by Radium Dial for the time being. But what is particularly interesting to me through here is the report that Hoffman is still insisting the early problems were due to mesothorium, and even Martland - the girls' champion in the trial - who disagreed with Hoffman initially, is making sounds as if the other/normal form of radium (not mesothorium) is less damaging and maybe the girls might recover. Which would seem to add some credibility (if not actual support) to Radium Dial's assertion that their girls would be okay.

So everyone, not just the companies, are still underestimating the long term effects of radium. (In the 1920s they obviously didn't have quite the same cynical world view that we have developed since then - although to little avail it might seem.) But what I'm getting at here is that even later the situation was probably not as clear as this book makes out, and some of that even comes from people that supported the girls in Newark. I am still waiting for Moore to reveal to me that the contents of the Radium Dial medical assessments; that she's holding me in suspense makes me think the company knows more than it's saying (which seems likely). But here, again, it would be interesting to have some idea of the real, human motives behind it all, some idea what they actually believed versus what they simply thought they might get away with (which, in the light of the Newark trial, seems a peculiarly foolish assumption).
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Old Today, 08:49 AM   #81
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But here, again, it would be interesting to have some idea of the real, human motives behind it all, some idea what they actually believed versus what they simply thought they might get away with (which, in the light of the Newark trial, seems a peculiarly foolish assumption).
I don't see a lot of cost in pursuing a strategy of trying to get away with it. It maximizes immediate returns and the day of reckoning could possibly be pushed off forever, or at least forever in practical terms. Stonewalling and pursuing a policy of wearing the claimants out can be very successful, especially since, which ties back to a point you've been making, people generally get the justice they can afford, at least in the US; it holds true for both civil and criminal cases.

There are complicating factors which make it not so much an either/or of what they actually believed v. what they could get away with it; add in a huge dollop of wishful thinking and willingness to theorize out of one's fundament - especially when there's a payoff involved in maintaining one's "expert" status.
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Old Today, 09:06 AM   #82
Catlady
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The intention of that comment was to explore what Kate Moore seems happy to ignore: that there are real people involved on the company side and they had their reasons for acting like they did. At the start, at least, those motives were not necessarily immoral, nor even amoral.
....
Everyone here seems to enthusiastically agree with the idea that this book is a good fit for the history repeating itself theme, and even I agree with that sentiment, but for a different reason: the book itself demonstrates why we keep repeating ourselves, because we refuse to try and see that the other side behaved as they did for a reason, or a variety of reasons.

Trying to find and understand those reasons could help us see how things got so out of hand. By the time we get into court it's too late to be analysing the situation. By then the beast has taken on a life of its own, with lawyers and journalists and reputations all embroiled in scoring points off one another, but with little respect or care for truth or for the suffering of the women.
Of course the companies had reasons: self-interest and self-protection. Those are usually the reasons for all sorts of behavior, both good and bad. It's the reason the dial painters acted as they did, too.

But so what? The issue isn't reasons/motives, it's priorities. The companies did not prioritize worker well-being over profitability. They didn't care about the human cost; sure, at the outset it was probably a matter of simply not wanting to believe any problems existed, and as time went on they were so invested in their denials that they ignored and suppressed evidence and doubled-down.

I don't see the company management as mustache-twirling villains who cackled happily as the dial painters died. I see them more as bean counters toting up profits and willfully blind to anything that might cut into those profits.

The result is pretty much the same, though--the women suffered and died.
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