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Grim Anniversary: 100 Years after the Triangle Fire

Posted in Civil on Friday March 25 2011 @ 6:48am

We hadn't heard about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took place 100 years ago today, until we read the case in law school in the 90s. Partly because our professor was an excellent storyteller, partly due to the horrific facts, and partly because anyone whose ancestors came over at the turn of the century has a There but for the grace of God sentiment, the story has stayed with us ever since.

At the centennial, awareness of the fire is growing. Its effects on the legal landscape, but also on areas from workplace safety to to labor to suffrage to photojournalism, are being re-examined.

From the Fire dramatizes the fire's history, and can be seen in New York City this weekend. Artist Ruth Sergel will continue to lead the project of writing victim names in chalk outside their former homes, as she has since 2004. Heroes such as Joseph Zito, the elevator operator who helped workers escape and who later refused to falsely testify about safe working conditions, are remembered by descendants and the community.

Are any lessons left for today? Joshua Freeman writes Today, as a cult of degregulation, a rabid ethos of unrestricted capitalism and the ability of firms to play workers in one country against those in another have seemingly sent us careening back in time toward a pre-New Deal regime of labor relations, there is less domestic opposition to sweated labor than 100 years ago (though low-paid workers overseas have been increasingly militant, evident in the fusillade of strikes in China). See his article, Remembering the Triangle Fire, in The Nation (March 16, 2001; appears in the April 4, 2011 issue).

Other resources of interest:

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