Monday, March 25, 2013

Triangle Fire anniversary. Let's not forget.

Image of the front of the Triangle Waist Company building.
Triangle Wait Company Building
Almost slipped passed me, but it's the anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which killed 146 workers, 129 of them women. It was the second largest fatality in a disaster at the time.

It came about due to, first, a fire. The factory was placed on the top 3 floors of the building. On March 25th, a fire broke out in a linen bin on the bottom most of these floors. When people realized what was happening, the top floor was contacted, but they couldn't call the middle floor. So word to the middle floor came slowly. People that were warned began descending open stairways. But these quickly became inaccessible. More exits were available, but kept locked to control worker movement and prevent theft. And the people with keys fled early, leaving those left trapped.

Then when the fire service arrived, they could not stop the fire. And they had no ladders that could reach up to those trapped.

The factory employed 500, so nearly one third of the workforce was killed in this fire. The owners escaped criminal responsibility, but were made to pay in civil action. But they showed no sign of learning from this.

Still many horrible lessons were taught that day. It rallied many workers to stand together, and demand better treatment by business. Unions already existed, but this reinforced their need for many. New interest in oversight of factories pushed government to investigate what was actually happening in New York factories. They discovered many reason to doubt the safety of workers. And this lead to new labor law and building codes. It was a horrible moment that stayed with people and tilted interest to those poor people treated too much like chattel, and not human beings.

The deaths of that day cannot be forgotten now, more than one hundred years on. Some like to talk down workers coordinating for their wages, benefits, and safety. They attack regulations, which are key to enforcing safety. They see the profits of the managers and owners as the paramount concern. And they have power in many states, diminish rights and security.

So let's be sure to not forget those that died.

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