On March 25, 1911 (100 years ago), a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City resulted in the deaths of 146 workers. Most were young girls, aged 16-23, who worked 47 hours per week.

The building had four possible escapes from the flames. The fire escape was possibly broken before the fire started. The stairway was engulfed in flames within three minutes. A door to a second stairway was locked. The foreman with the key fled at the first sign of fire.

Many of the girls were saved by heroes Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillario, who ran an elevator from the ninth floor to the ground floor three times.

Factory owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were charged with manslaughter, but were acquitted. Later in a civil suit, the two were found guilty and fined $75 per victim. The insurance company paid the owners about $400 per victim.

As a result, and with the persistent efforts of several garment workers unions, many of the worker safety laws now in effect were passed.

A few weeks after the factory reopened, NYC fire inspectors found that the door leading to the escape stairway was blocked again. The owners had ordered large sewing machines to be placed against the door. Two years later, Blanck was found guilty of locking the door during working hours. He was fined $20.

But hey, let’s break all unions and trust business owners. As we continue on our path of union-breaking, let’s not be influenced by historical facts.

Allan Watson

Manchester


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