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Labor Under Attack

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[All images and content copyright 1998-2010: Judy Taylor Fine Art, Mount Desert Island, Maine]

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire,

the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women; the youngest were two fourteen-year-old girls. Many of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

There have been many commemorations, including a reading of the names of the women who died that day. It is bitterly ironic that Maine governor Paul LePage chose this week to order “the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the [state’s] Department of Labor.” Why?

According to LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, the administration felt the mural and the conference room monikers showed “one-sided decor” not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.

“The message from state agencies needs to be balanced,” said Demeritt, adding that the mural had sparked complaints from “some business owners” who complained it was hostile to business.

As the Sun Journal goes on to explain, the

mural was erected in 2008 following a jury selection by the Maine Arts Commission and a $60,000 federal grant. Judy Taylor, the artist from Seal Cove, said Tuesday that her piece was never meant to be political, simply a depiction of Maine’s labor history.

The 11-panel piece depicts several moments, including the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston, “Rosie the Riveter” at Bath Iron Works, and the paper mill workers’ strike of 1986 in Jay.

According to Taylor, the idea for the panels came from Charley Scontras, a labor historian at the University of Maine.

Taylor said the administration’s decision to remove the mural was “terrible.” She said her 2007 selection by the Maine Arts Commission was the “commission of a lifetime.”

Taylor said she’d never heard that her mural painted an unflattering picture of business.

“There was never any intention to be pro-labor or anti-labor,” she said. “It was a pure depiction of the facts.”

She said people had always reacted positively to the mural, even businesspeople who came to her studio.

You can study the mural at Judy Taylor’s website, which shows the eleven panels in miniature and provides links that expand the panels in threes or twos. At the top of this post are panels 7 through 9, with titles “The 1937 Strike”, “Francis Perkins”, and “Rosie the Riveter” and with the further descriptions:

The 1937 Strike : Scenes from an unsuccessful strike attempt to create better conditions for women workers.

Francis Perkins : FDR’s Labor Secretary, and untiring labor activist, a Maine Labor icon.

Rosie the Riveter : Maine’s version of WWII women workers participated as ship-builders.

Be sure to visit Taylor’s site and examine the other panels.

Is it not enough in this great recession for millions of working Americans to suffer? Must the history of labor be whitewashed? Must being pro-business mean turning a blind eye to the workers who make business function? What madness!

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Categories: Labor, Politics

Abel Prize

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The ninth annual Abel Prize was awarded to John Milnor two days ago. As I explained in a post two years ago and again a year ago, the prize was established in 2001 by the Norwegian government to be the counterpart in mathematics to the Nobel Prizes in other disciplines. It has been awarded by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters each year since 2003 to one or two outstanding mathematicians and honors the great, early-nineteenth-century Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel.

This year’s recipient is John Milnor. As explained at the Abel Prize website, his

profound ideas and fundamental discoveries have largely shaped the mathematical landscape of the second half of the 20th century. All of Milnor’s work display features of great research: profound insights, vivid imagination, striking surprises and supreme beauty. He receives the 2011 Abel Prize “for pioneering discoveries in topology, geometry and algebra,” to quote the Abel committee.

In the course of 60 years, John Milnor has made a deep mark on modern mathematics. Numerous mathematical concepts, results and conjectures are named after him. In the literature we find Milnor exotic spheres, Milnor fibration, Milnor number and many more. Yet the significance of Milnor’s work goes far beyond his own spectacular results. He has also written tremendously influential books, which are widely considered to be models of fine mathematical writing.

Milnor is indeed a fine mathematical writer. I own his beautiful Symmetric Bilinear Forms, a classic, and his tiny monograph Topology from the Differentiable Viewpoint.

Milnor spent much of his career in Princeton, as a student and faculty member at the university and later as a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, before moving late in his career to Stony Brook. Between the university and the Institute, he was briefly at MIT. I overlapped with him twice, at MIT and then during my sabbatical year as a member of the Institute, but foolishly, I never talked with him.

Categories: Math