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109th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

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In the April 5th, 1911 funeral procession for seven unidentified Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire victims, members of the United Hebrew Trades of New York and the Ladies Waist and Dressmakers Union Local 25 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union - the local that had tried to organize Triangle Waist Company workers* - carry banners proclaiming "We Mourn Our Loss."

March 25, 2020, New York, NY -- The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, which occurred in Manhattan's Lower East Side on March 25, 1911, just east of Washington Square Park, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the city's history. 146 garment workers, mostly Jewish and Italian women, died as a result of this fire, either by being burned or as a result of jumping to their deaths. Most of the workers could not escape because factory managers locked the doors to the stairwells and exits to keep them from leaving early. Fire trucks' ladders could only reach the sixth floor - the those who perished were on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors.

Occurring in the midst of five years of labor organizing in the clothing industry in a number of cities across the United States, the fire shocked the city, the country and the world. Legislation requiring improved factory safety standards was passed in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Unions and their allies have been fighting ever since for better and safer working conditions for working men and women wherever they labor.

Each year, we've marked the anniversary of the tragic fire. Today, frontline healthcare workers are imperiled. National Nurses United notes that "nurses across the country report that they are not receiving the proper staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE), education, and communication from their employers, or isolation rooms they need to safely care for COVID-19 patients." We ask you to sign this petition to the U.S. Congress to do everything in their power to ensure that nurses are protected from COVID-19, because all of our lives depend on it.

Below are a number of resources to learn about, and teach about, this tragedy and its relevance to today's struggle for decent and safe workplaces, in New York, across the United States, and around the globe.

The Kheel Center / ILR School / Cornell University has an excellent website, with suggested books and articles, facts and figures.

The Jewish Women's Archives have at least two online articles about the Triangle Factory Fire - see here and here.

Also see History.com's page on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, as well as Patrick Kiger's article, How the Horrific Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws.

The article by David Cohen and Peter Dreier, "Have We Forgotten the Lessons of the Triangle Fire?" is as relevant today as when it appeared.

The same for "Bangladesh Factory Collapse, Like Triangle Fire, Should Bring About Change," by Kevin Kolben.

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition has a range or resources on its website, and invites people to join them on its Facebook page for special tributes and remembrances.

* "Exemplifying the `new unionism,' the ILGWU led two of the most widespread and best-known industrial strikes of the early Twentieth Century: the shirtwaist makers’ strike of 1909 in New York City and the cloak makers’ strike of 1910 in Chicago."