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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Factory Girl’ by Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens has a concert of protest songs, which is touring called “Swimming in Dark Waters—Other Voices.” One of the songs she is performing in her set is an Irish ballad called “Factory Girl.”

As Giddens says in the introduction, social progress often comes from disaster. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, killed over 100 young women because they could not get out of the factory. All the exits had been locked so the women could not leave to take a break, and they were trapped.

In 2013, there was a building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people working in five garment factories, which were inside. These workers manufacture clothes for the West, and they are engaged in slave labor essentially. This is the cost of “fast fashion,” the cost of $6.99 specials at clothing stores.

Giddens rewrote “Factory Girl” to speak to the issue of labor in factories like the one, which collapsed in Bangladesh.

The intro is gorgeous violin. Giddens sings about a protagonist, who encounters a girl who works hard in the factory every day. She is out among the birds and the flowers in the morning, but once the bell rings, she has to get to work in the factory. And she has disdain for the protagonist, who she believes judges her inappropriately.

One day, the factory collapses. The protagonist goes to the factory up on the hill to see the destruction. The girl is one of the dead. As Giddens eloquently puts it, “A rich man’s neglect is the poor man’s grief.”

While the death toll is far from the number of deaths in the Bangladesh factory collapse, this line could apply to the poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. It could apply to the numerous cities in the United States. The rich neglect the poor, and what results is the utter devastation of poor people’s lives.

The human beings in communities like Flint are stuck in human sacrifice zones. They are disposable just like the Bangladesh workers in the factory that collapsed were disposable. The rich and powerful people responsible think they can move on their lives and forget about deaths and the spread of sickness. It falls on the people to prevent that from happening.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."