Plus Ça Change: Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza

by Joe White
triangle building

The horrible deaths of over 1,100 clothing workers in Bangladesh bear more than a passing resemblance to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of l9ll in which l46 garment workers perished. In certain key respects nothing has changed over the last l00 years. In both New York l9ll and Bangladesh 2013 the distinguishing characteristics of garment manufacturing were low capital entry levels, cut-throat competition, utterly atrocious wages and working conditions, and bosses who ranked with coal mine owners when it came to respect for human life. Both then and now, these catastrophes were completely avoidable as well as being completely predictable.

Yet another parallel is that there were unheeded warnings. Fires in the shirtwaist sector of the New York City garment trade were nothing new; smaller building collapses had already occurred in South Asia’s 21st century version of 7th Avenue. The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe raises an alarming question: Can it be that things are actually worse for working people throughout the world than they were l00 years ago? Twenty-five years ago such a conclusion would have been implausible if not downright unthinkable. For people on the left, (though of course polls don’t get taken on things like this), the consensus seems to have been that world history had entered a period of transition from capitalism to socialism—however long and messy that transition might turn out to be. But who’s going to bet the price of a six-pack on that in 2013?
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Remember the Triangle Fire Victims

by Mike Hall

March 25 is the 101st anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, which killed 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women. Many of them jumped to their deaths from the 10-story factory to escape the fire because they were locked inside.

While the Triangle fire is a prominent part of labor history, not just for its tragedy but as the impetus for new labor laws and workplace safety reforms, there is no permanent memorial.

On Friday in New York City, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, a nationwide coalition of organizations and individuals committed to honoring the victims, will launch its international design search for the Triangle Fire Memorial.

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and Industry’s Perpetual Resistance to Reform

by Jake Blumgart

The blaze lasted less than half an hour. But in that brief period 146 people, mostly young Jewish and Italian migrant women, died in hideous ways, some burnt beyond recognition, some crushed on the sidewalk nine stories below.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire raged one hundred years ago this Friday, March 25th 1911. Until the events of September 11th, it was the single worst workplace disaster in New York City’s history. It was also entirely preventable.

Wooden tables, wooden chairs, sewing machines that leaked oil, work tables surrounded by easily combustible cloth scraps and other detritus (the accumulated refuse hadn’t been cleared since mid-January). The Triangle Factory was a deathtrap. Several factory doors were kept locked to prevent employee theft. The factory was comprised of the eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the Asch building (which still stands), but most firefighting equipment of the time could only reach the sixth floor. There was only one rickety fire escape.

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“Forward” publishes outstanding special ‘Triangle Fire’ issue

by Stuart Elliott

Triangle Fire Parade

People and horses draped in black walk in procession in memory of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, New York City.

Forward, the weekly, nationally focused Jewish newspaper, has published a special section for its new March 25 issue to commemorate and honor the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The section features the first-ever translations of the Jewish Daily Forward’s original Yiddish coverage of the event, including the front page of March 25, 1911, the day of the fire, stories about the heroes of the fire, and Editor Abe Cahan’s editorials about the tragedy.

The special section also includes an original essay from David Von Drehle, editor-at-large for Time magazine, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America as well as the winners of its Triangle Fire Poetry Contest, a prize poetry contest that the Forward held earlier this year to elicit  submissions for both an English and Yiddish poem to honor the poetry of Morris Rosenfeld who documented the fire at the time and to reflect upon the fire’s meaning and legacy.

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March 20 Demo: Remembering the Triangle Fire

Next Thursday (March 20), the United Hebrew Trades – New York Jewish Labor Committee, trade unionists, city officials, students and others are gathering to remember the 97th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire. The event will take place from 12 noon to 1 p.m. at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, just east of Washington Square Park.

( For more info: Carolyn De Paolo, United Hebrew Trades/JLC 217-477-0767)

This is is not only a remembrance, but a demonstration of the past. The UHT/JLC points out that in 2006, 99 NYC workers were killed on the job, one-third of them from a fall. So the Thursday event is part of the on-going fight to prevent the killing of workers on the job.

Don’t know much about the Triangle Fire, then read past the fold.

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