The Last Triangle Waist Factory Victims Identified

Nearly one hundred years ago, on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Waist Factory near Washington Square, in Manhattan, killing 146 workers. Some of the workers leapt to their deaths from the 9th-floor sweatshop rather than be burned. The workers could not escape the fire because management had locked the doors to keep them from leaving early.

Six of the victims were so badly burned they could not be identified, and the six bodies were buried together in a cemetery on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. The New York Times reports today that a determined researcher has identified the six unknown victims — Max Florin, Fannie Rosen, Dora Evans, Josephine Cammarata, Maria Lauletti, and Concetta Prestifilippo. All six were immigrants in their teens or early 20s except for Maria Lauletti, who was 33.

“Waist,” by the way, refers to “shirtwaist,” the name of a popular style of ladies’ fashion at the time.

Many Americans have heard of this fire; what is less well known is that a couple of years before the fire, in 1909, a walkout by Triangle employees sparked a mass strike of New York’s garment workers that lasted for six weeks. As many as 32,000 striking workers, mostly women, took to the streets and adopted the slogan “We’d rather starve quick than starve slow.”

The power establishment was of course opposed to the strike. Police arrested strikers on any pretext; employers hired thugs to beat them. Eventually some employers conceded some improvements in wages and working conditions, although the Triangle Factory management made no concessions. They simply locked out the strikers and hired new immigrant workers, who would work as much as 12 hours a day for as little as $1.50 a week.

The fire shocked America, and it also shocked the New York legislature into passing some of the first workplace safety regulations in the country. Among the reformers pushing for protection for workers was Frances Perkins, who had watched the fire from the street. Perkins would be the Secretary of Labor in the Franklin Roosevelt Administration.

The fire also became a catalyst for union organizing, especially for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. It was only after the fire that garment workers in New York won the right to unionize.

Today, as the political Right in America is gripped with an insane compulsion to return the United States to the 19th century, we seem to be re-fighting issues thought to be settled many decades ago. The fight of the vilified public workers of Wisconsin is not not so much about wages and benefits, because the workers have offered to make concessions on wages and benefits. The fight ultimately is about the collective bargaining rights of all American workers, public and private.

Those rights were paid for with the lives of Max Florin, Fannie Rosen, Dora Evans, Josephine Cammarata, Maria Lauletti, Concetta Prestifilippo, and 140 other Triangle employees, plus the thousands of lives of miners, factory workers, and other laborers that were so easily thrown away for the sake of a profit margin.

I realize there’s an argument that public employees aren’t like private employees, and that public employees should not be allowed to unionize, never mind strike. Make no mistake, the real point of these arguments is that nobody should unionize, period. I have yet to see an argument against public employee unionization that hasn’t been used against private employee unions as well.

Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold nailed it when he said the Right is using “divide and conquer” tactics against all American workers. “The idea here on the right and the corporate side is to divide working people against each other, to turn private employees against public employees out of some kind of resentment,” he said.

Paul Krugman said today,

… what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

See also Andy Stern.

Steve Benen says that Gov. Walker will make no compromises. The blinking will be done in the Wisconsin legislature, however. If three Republican senators switch sides, the Dems could block the bill. Pressure from constituents will be critical now.

When I saw the article about the Triangle Factory workers today, it felt as if they were calling to us to stand strong and not go back. I know some of you have been active in Wisconsin these past few days, and I thank you. Don’t let the oligarchs win.

16 thoughts on “The Last Triangle Waist Factory Victims Identified

  1. We are losing this game badly.
    The oligarch’s have first and goal at our 1 yard line, and the clock’s running out.

    Over the last 30+ years, they have turned the game against us.
    From the mid-19th century until the mid-20th, labor was aggressive and making progress. But, lately, and especially since Reagan, the people in this country have played defense, trying to hold what they had, instead of going for more.
    This was the plan of the oligarchs who got scared by the ’60’s. It’s been a relentless drip, drip, drip of divide and conquer ever since – black, white, male, female, gay, straight, legal, illegal, etc.. And now, it’s public vs. private unions vs. the people who don’t work for unions at all. All to maintain their huge piece of the pie, when there’s enough to split for everyone, and they can still have by far the biggest slice.

    And there will be more Triangle fires, and Sago mine disasters until we take up the cause for one another. Oh, but that’s ‘socialism.’ Or so “they” say.
    It’s too bad the Democrats forgot who their base used to be before they started kissing corporations asses for cash. They might be in a position to take advantage of a populist moment and turn it into a winning political movement. But then, I guess it’s easier to collect campaign funds from the ships owners while you’re sipping champagne with pretty ladies around you in your suit at their party, than popping a cold one while you’re talking to the sweaty workers at the dock on a hot summer afternoon.

    Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for you and me.
    America is dying. And, as I’ve said before, I wish we could blame it on the lead like the Romans, and not on the self-inflicted wound that is modern conservatism.

  2. Thank you for this post. I don’t always read beyond the front page of the Times and I probably wouldn’t have found the article.

  3. Protests about Wisconsin are being organized around the US. Go to them. The oligarchs have their finger in the air and we need to let them know there is a wind that can blow them down. This bad bill is more than union busting. It gives important assets to the Koch Brothers. Not only are union rights being taken away, real property and tax benefits are being transferred to multi-national interests. Oligarch backing for Walker is on the blogs now. It is past time to walk like an Egyptian. Thanks for the reminder of the past abuses of workers. This is our future if we do not act now.

  4. “Divide and Conquer” is conservativisms’ main tactic going back forever. The only way an aristocracy – by definition a tiny minority – can remain in power, is to somehow deprive the overwhelming majority of their power. Keeping the masses fighting each other over trivialities, instead of recognizing who is instigating these fights is a permanent, ongoing effort of the aristocracy, to disspate the power of the masses into self-defeating struggles.

    I read today, that while everyone is focused on Walker’s attempt to bust the public unions, there also a provision in his “budget repair bill” to sell off Wisconsin’s public utilities WITHOUT any competitive bidding. In other words, the governor gets to sell off public assets to whoever he wants, at whatever price he wants. Anything with the word “public” in it is anathema to these troglodytes.

    The outright looting of the commons this country built up over decades could not be more evident.

  5. Ah, anyone remember this classic from 1981, just at the begining of the “Reagan De-Evolution,” the year Ronnie started to kill unions?
    “Look For the Union Label:”

    Maybe they should dust that one off and show it on TV everywhere. Then they could do a video on finding what those people in the ad are doing now. I’m sure all of those workers lost their jobs years ago to India, China, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Maybe they could remind Americans of a time when working for a union was a source of pride, not something to hide.

  6. moonbat,
    Saw that too. And, yup, he can sell them as “No-bids!” Kind of makes me wish I’d gone to college with the new Governor before he dropped out.
    Hmmmm… Maybe we should start a rumour that he’s trying to sell the Packers!

    If anyone hears of anything in Upstate NY, please let me know. I’d like to join to show solidarity.

  7. I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with this, but here’s what one writer says Wisconsin is really about

    …As always this has to do with money, and the union “compromise” coming down the pipe was set up to be the “booby” prize while the Koch Brothers get their “booty” prize. This is all being well-orchestrated with an end game that has absolutely nothing to do with unions.

    ….this is about power plants and a vertical monopoly the Kock Brothers have their eye on in Wisconsin:

    1) Koch Brothers get their puppet Governor Walker in power
    2) Governor Walker gins up a crisis
    3) Democrats and Progressives take the bait and counter-protest on collective bargaining
    4) Governor Walker will compromise on collective bargaining if the rest of the budget is passed as is
    5) Bill passes, with trojan horse give-a-way to the Koch Brothers nested in
    6) Koch Brothers will buy Wisconsin power plants for pennies on the dollar in closed unsolicitated bids for which there will be no oversight
    7) Koch Brothers get the best vertical monopoly in a generation

  8. Governor Walker has really started something, hasn’t he? This is not going away any time soon. Matter of fact, this is only a start of the political upheavel that is happening all over the world. People are tired of having their rights taken away from them, and when the politicians start taking away their money, the shit is going to hit the fan.

  9. On September 3, 1991 at the Imperial chicken processing plant in Hamlet, NC, 25 people died and 54 were injured. There were some similarities to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, namely a large percentage of immigrants, locked fire doors and safety violations. At the time I wondered if it had the potential to rekindle some of the progressive movement’s concern for worker’s rights or to tweak the collective conscience of the country. Silly me.

    Public employees are not unionized here in NC. When we came here my wife took a job in the public sector. It paid approxiamtely 25% less than the going rate for the private sector, but offered good health benefits and better retirement than the private sector. The benefits are deferred compensation. That was the deal.

    It seems ironic to me that so many conservatives laud the abilities of some to make sound financial decisions and take responsible actions to provide for their future, but when those sound decisions don’t confirm their Randian principles, they become immoral and selfish, (and not in the GOOD selfish way). They find it offensively inequitable when someone has preserved their financial security through means which contradict their world view. So they seem to propose restoring equality by wrecking the security of some who are weathering the storm, but lack the requisite social and financial pedigrees. You know, they’re not Galtian enough.

  10. [T]he political Right in America is gripped with an insane compulsion to return the United States to the 19th century….

    Exactly. I’ve been wondering which newly-elected tea partier will be the first to recommend ending budget woes by “re-privatizing African Americans”?

  11. Maybe we need a “megaunion”. For EVERY worker. Like the GOP thugs have megachurch madrassas and the NRA. Just brainstorming. My dad was a union man. But, there are so few union workers left, I am wondering if the institution needs some kind of refresh, to get kick-started again. The best you have now, for non-unionized people is a private labor lawyer.

  12. Koch Bros buys $15 million exhibit at the Smithsonian museum, to push the idea that humans have always evolved in response to climate change. See Joe Romm, climate scientist critique the exhibit (either within the diary, or here).

    To me, this level of propaganda, of buying a major exhibit in a major museum to push your own agenda is unbelievable. I guess I’m used to the idea of the news on TV being false or misleading, but something as sancrosanct as the Smithsonian museum… This is just one indication of how aggressive, ruthless and unbridled these people are.

  13. Thank you for reminding us about the human lives at stake when political leaders try to frame collective bargaining as a dangerous and costly endeavor. It is easy for average folks to get caught up in the rhetoric of danger when the topic involves shrinking public funds, perhaps because we relate to our own ever-shrinking options for the future. So many of us feel powerless and insecure (unsafe) and equate power with short term measures that create an illusion of control by means of implementing budgetary controls.

    For so long now, we (individuals and families) have been forced into short-term planning of our own household funds, many barely making it from paycheck to paycheck, and many failing to escape the harsh consequences of unemployment. When legislators advocate the same short term solutions, well, many seem to relate (emotionally) to that strategy even though there is a world of difference between the options available for an individual (or an individual family) and options available to collectives (such as unions and legislatures.)

  14. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Mahablog » The Last Triangle Waist Factory Victims Identified --

Comments are closed.