Thursday, March 24, 2011

Labor Struggles [The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire]

¡Hola! Everybody...
I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, well-versed in history and a wide range of subjects. I know this sounds like hubris, but it is isn’t, I’m simply claiming a little intellectual curiosity. Which is why I was taken aback one day some years ago when I was entering an NYU building for one of my classes and noticed a large wreath of flowers. There were no words, no plaque, no reason, apparently, for the wreath. When I asked a classmate, she looked at me in surprise, and asked, “You never heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire?” Actually, I never had heard of that horrific incident.

They say that history repeats itself, but I disagree. I tend to see history as a spiral not a circle (an important distinction). If you want to know where the current conservative Kool-Aid will lead us, then read on. This is the “America” the teatarded want to bring back (h/t Sam Smith)

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-=[ The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire]=-

Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana

Note: My maternal grandmother toiled as a garment worker for decades.

The fire at the Triangle Shirt Waist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism.

The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.

Brunswick Times Record editorial, ME - On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in New York City. It spread quickly through the factory, which made women’s blouses, known as “shirtwaists,” and occupied the top three floors of the building.

Most of the workers could not escape the flames, since doors leading to the roof were locked and flames prevented workers from descending stairwells or by an elevator that eventually buckled under the heat. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, most of them immigrant women, who either died in the flames or jumped to their deaths from the factory windows.

It was the deadliest industrial disaster in the city’s history, the fourth deadliest in the United States.

The fire, and the acquittal of the two owners in a criminal trial, helped spur factory workers to organize and join labor unions that would advocate for them against sweatshop working conditions, low wages and 50-hour work weeks.

A young woman named Frances Perkins was appointed as the lead investigator of the commission looking into how to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. The commission took four years to complete its seven-volume report…

Perkins later become the first woman to hold a Cabinet post, serving as secretary of labor for the 12 years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Her mind as well as her heart seared by what she had learned in the Triangle fire investigation, she was the driving force behind most, if not all, of FDR’s “New Deal” reforms. Among them:

The Wagner Act, which gives workers the right to organize unions and bargain collectively.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, which established for the first time a minimum wage and gave us the 40-hour work week.

The Social Security Act of 1935, legislation she literally nagged FDR to support, astutely recognizing that the dire conditions of the Great Depression were probably the only way such a sweeping economic security package would gain public support.

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Company executives, showing no concern for the welfare of the women workers, managed to escape by secretly taking a freight elevator where they were rescued. It is said that girls and young women leapt from eighth- and ninth-story windows, their flaming skirts billowing in the wind. It horrified a nation and led to some of the first city, state and federal laws dealing with workers’ safety. It gave a powerful impetus to the fledgling labor movement, greatly strengthening the building of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, which two years before the fire had led a three-month strike to focus attention on conditions in workplaces like the Triangle factory.

How easily we forget the sacrifices and victories of our own labor history.

More on the Shirtwaist Fire here

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization...

1 comment:

  1. I saw the 1979 movie as a kid. Pretty powerful.


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