It was near closing time on a Saturday at the Triangle Waist Company. The factory had 600 workers, mostly young woman and girls, recent Italian and Jewish Immigrants who spoke little or no English. These girls, Annies and Idas and Vincenzas and Esthers, might have been looking forward to the end of their long work week when the fire broke out.
The fire spread rapidly, igniting the scraps of fabric and other waste scattered around the workplace. Survivors reported that the flames leapt out from under the tables where they were sewing.
Many of the workers discovered they had no way out. The building's internal fire escape quickly filled with smoke. The freight elevator broke, and many girls, in their fear and confusion, fell down the empty shaft.
Workers on the ninth floor tried to open the door to the fire escape but could not do so. Their employers admitted they often locked the doors to prevent pilferage.
Then they all began to drop. The crowd yelled "Don't jump!" but it was jump or be burned the proof of which is found in the fact that fifty burned bodies were taken from the ninth floor alone.
They jumped, the crashed through broken glass, they crushed themselves to death on the sidewalk. Of those who stayed behind it is better to say nothing . . . .
Within half an hour, 146 workers, 123 of them girls and young women, were dead.
Chapter II: Their Deaths Were Not In Vain
The devastating fire shocked the city and brought about what some researchers called
"the golden age of factory reform." Many diverse groups came together in the weeks and months after the tragedy to accept responsibility for the tragedy and call for change. A committee was formed to improve safety in the workplace, which continued in operation for nine years. Among the members was Frances Perkins, who became FDR's secretary of labor. The Commission recommended and helped to enact laws requiring fire escapes and other safety measures, disposal of flammable materials in the workplace, enclosure of elevator shafts. The Commission was responsible for laws limiting child labor, requiring reporting of workplace injuries and accidents, and mandating proper ventilation and sanitation in the workplace. Laws mandating a system of workers compensation also grew out of the tragedy.
Chapter III: We Do Not Live Happily Ever After
In the new millennium employers display the same shocking lack of concern for worker health and safety the Triangle bosses did.
All is not well in the garment industry: People were horrified by press reports about the discovery at an apartment complex in El Monte, California, where
According to the Justice Department, Mega-Corporation W.R. Grace denied vital information about workplace hazards and spread carcinogens throughout the town of Libby Montana.
And, the ghosts of those young immigrant girls from the ninth floor must have cried over reports that WalMart locked late-shift workers inside their warehouses to avoid pilferage.
While government stepped up after the triangle fire to make workers safe, Bush has decided that the government is no longer in the business of protecting workplace safety. The Washington Post reported
And how can we forget Senator Santorum's bold move to eliminate the 40-hour work week? http://dailykos.com/story/2005/3/5/102933/7641
Chapter IV: Remember the Triangle Fire
Bush and the republicans giving workers the shaft is not news to anyone on this site. The question is: How to get the word out to workers before the next triangle fire? I was thinking that March 25th would be a good day to remind people what can happen when you take workplace safety for granted.
Rabbi Stephen Wise said several days after the tragedy that the lesson of the triangle fire "is that the life of the lowliest worker in the nation is sacred and inviolable." The memories of those Annies and Idas and Vincenzas and Esthers demand that we never forget that.
I welcome your ideas for keeping their memory alive.