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It was 100 years ago today.

A fire broke out on the eighth floor of the Asch Building (now known as the Brown Building) located near Greenwich Village in Manhattan and consumed the building's top three floors.  

146 people died in the fire.

And we see today people willing to have that horror repeated.

At around a quarter to five the fire began in the workroom of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  The factory was part of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, which occupied the top three floors of the rather unassuming Manhattan building. The Factory produced women's tailored shirts, and employed mostly immigrant Italian, Jewish, and German women, working for about $6.00 a week, to supplement the income from the clothing shops occupying the floors below.  

The fire began in the eighth floor workroom and spread to the ninth and tenth floors.  Through a combination of too few and poorly designed exits (some even locked), poorly constructed fire escapes,  and fire engine ladders that weren't long enough to reach the upper floors, the fire resulted in 146 deaths..

The funeral procession drew 120,000, with 230,000 lining the streets to view the procession as it went by.  A number of reforms  were enacted following extensive hearings -- ended due to lack of appropriations -- that became models of safety codes for the rest of the country.

And now?  Republicans are looking to overturn that legacy.  

As is mentioned in the link above  -- an excellent site, btw -- extensive investigations into the fire were cut off after four years due to a failure of the state legislature to appropriate the necessary funds to continue their work.  It's thus possible that any enacted reforms may have been inadequate in their own right, although they represented at the time very sweeping changes; and those reforms and the protests that sparked them served as models for the New Deal, brought about the codification of workers' rights to unionize into law by galvanizing the labor movement, and even led to the passage of women's suffrage.

Today, along with worker's rights, the most recent reforms concerning the environment, health care and financial regulation are similarly threatened by the Republicans in the same manner -- denying the funding necessary to implement them.  

One thing to note from the link is that these investigations and reforms were demanded by unions, and remember unions were considered by the courts to be
forbidden under the Sherman Antitrust Act.  This changed with (1) the Uprising of the 20,000 which led to the establishment of the International Ladies' and Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), which was instrumental in organizing the protests following the fire, and (2) the Clayton Act, which made unions exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act, was enacted in 1914 under Woodrow Wilson (and now you know the real reason why Glenn Beck hates Woodrow Wilson).

The Triangle fire and its legacy illustrate a major point about unions:

All of us on this site are (or bloody well ought to be) familiar with other large labor actions, and the often violent reaction to them by the bosses -- such as Haymarket, the Railroad Strike of 1877, the Pullman strike (first nationwide strike in the U.S.), and I've mentioned the Uprising of the 20,000 above.  But the Triangle fire showed that unions are necessary to secure workers' safety along with wages and benefits, and not only to redress the unequal distribution of economic power between big business and workers, but also the political inequities between workers and big business.  

   And Republicans now are working to roll back collective bargaining rights (the basic point of unions),as we've seen in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and even Tennessee.  One has even made noise about rolling back child labor laws!  The evidence mounts ever more daily that this is a concerted effort by the big bosses to take back everything workers have won since the late nineteenth century.

We need unions now as much as ever.

It was 100 years ago today.  One hundred and forty-six workers died in a fire.  

And Republicans want to abolish the fire department.

There really is a concerted class war going on, and it has potentially horrifying consequences.  It's led by the Republicans at the behest of their big business paymasters.

We're in a defensive posture, but Wisconsin is pointing the way to our side being the ones to end this war on our terms.  

Don't ever forget that 100 years ago today 146 workers died in a fire.

"Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living" -- Mother Jones

Originally posted to caul on Fri Mar 25, 2011 at 05:48 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, German American Friendship Group, and Community Spotlight.

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