Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: Life So Cheap & Property So Sacred by JayRaye

The Real Triangle by John Sloan
The Real Triangle by John Sloan
The New York Call, March 27,1911

January 10, 1910
Jewish Daily Forward

The "Triangle" company...With blood this name will be written in the history of the American workers' movement, and with feeling will this history recall the names of the strikers of this shop-of the crusaders.

December 28, 1910
City Hall, New York City, NY
Testimony before the New York State Senate and Assembly Joint Investigating Committee
on Corrupt Practices and Insurance Companies Other Than Life Insurance:

Judge M. Linn Bruce, Counsel
Chief Edward F Croker, NYC Fire Department
Bruce: How high can you successfully combat a fire now?
Croker: Not over eighty-five feet.
Bruce: That would be how many stories of an ordinary building?
Croker: About seven.
Bruce: Is this a serious danger?
Croker: I think if you want to go into the so-called workshops which are along Fifth Avenue and west of Broadway and east of Sixth Avenue, twelve, fourteen or fifteen story buildings they call workshops, you will find it very interesting to see the number of people in one of these buildings with absolutely not one fire protection, with out any means of escape in case of fire.

Saturday at about 4:45 PM
March 25, 1911
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

In 1935, Mary Heaton Vorse recalled that terrible day:

"They're burning!" "They're jumping out of the windows!"

Screams of sheer horror came over the wires. I called police headquarters and found out that a shirtwaist factory just off Washington Square was on fire. The girls were trapped, the doors having been locked to prevent their going out for a breath of air. I hurried over to the Square, drawn by the contagion of disaster. I could not get very near; fire lines were drawn. People ahead of me were crying:

"Another's jumped! Another's jumped, all on fire!"

Like burning torches, girls jumped into the street....

March 29, 1911
Jewish Daily Forward

This poem by Morris Rosenfeld "Poet Laureate of the slum and the sweatshop," was printed down the left side of the entire first page:

Now let us light the holy candles
And mark the sorrow
Of Jewish masses in darkness and poverty.
This is our funeral,
These our graves,
Our children,
The beautiful, beautiful flowers destroyed,
Our lovely ones burned,
Their ashes buried under a mountain of caskets.

There will come a time
When your time will end, you golden princes.
Let this haunt your consciences:
Let the burning building, our daughters in flame
Be the nightmare that destroys your sleep,
The poison that embitters your lives,
The horror that kills your joy.
And in the midst of celebrations for your children,
May you be struck blind with fear over the
Memory of this red avalanche
Until time erases you.

-translated from the original Yiddish
Entire poem here.

Sunday April 2, 1911
Metropolitan Opera House
New York City, NY

Mary Heaton Vorse remembered the meeting as a mass funeral:

A mass funeral was given for the victims. New York labor filled the Opera House from top to bottom, everyone dressed in mourning for their murdered fellow workers. A tiny girl with flaming red hair, Rose Schneiderman, made the unforgettable funeral speech.

The immigrant workers from the Lower East Side filled the galleries while the wealthy reformers decked out in their high hats, furs, and feathers took their seats in the orchestra, and boxes. The working people were skeptical of any promised civic-reform. Such promises, they knew, were seldom kept. Tensions between the two groups mounted as the meeting progressed and threatened to disrupt the meeting altogether.

Frances Perkins, who was sitting near Rose, described her as a pretty little (4'6") girl with fiery red hair, and blazing eyes, and noticed that she was trembling as she waited to speak. Rose was there as a speaker for the Women's Trade Union League. When she began to speak the hall grew silent. Her voice was low and quiet, but her words were heard in the hall, printed in the press and sent out all across the nation:

I would be a traitor to those poor burned bodies, if I were to come here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public—and we have found you wanting.
Rose Schneiderman, 1910
Rose Schneiderman, 1910
Source Credit: Kheel Center

The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today: the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch fire.

This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in this city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of us for one job, it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death.

We have tried you, citizens! We are trying you now and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers and brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable, the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.

Public officials have only words of warning for us—warning that we must be intensely orderly and must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back when we rise—back into the conditions that make life unbearable.

I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. And the only way is through a strong working-class movement.

Wednesday, April 5, 1911
One hundred thousand mourners
Followed those sad biers.
The streets were filled with people
Weeping bitter tears.
-Ruth Rubin

The day of the mass funeral for the seven unidentified victims of the Triangle Fire was described by the World as a day when "the skies wept [and] rain, ever and again descended in a drenching downpour." The American fretted:

There was something ominous about the gathering, it was so silent and it was to march through a section of the East Side-the thickly populated foreign districts-where emotions are poignant and demonstrative. The police were plainly worried.

The working people marched from the East Side in silence, dressed in mourning, and carrying their Union banners draped in black. The police need not have worried; the marchers provided their own parade marshals from the Central Federated Union, the Socialist Party, the Bonnaz Embroidery Workers' Union, and the Women's Trade Union League.

The American continued:

It was not until the marchers reached Washington Square, and came in sight of the Asch building [the Triangle factory building] that the women gave vent to their sorrow.

It was one long-drawn-out , heart-piercing cry, the mingling of thousands of voices, a sort of human thunder in the elemental storm-a cry that was, perhaps, the most impressive expression of human grief ever heard in this city.

The Twenty-Third Street Ferry took eight hearses across the waters to Brooklyn. The unidentified victims of the Triangle Factory Fire were buried in the Evergreen Cemetery. There were seven graves for the caskets numbered 46, 50, 61, 95, 103, 115, and 127. An eighth grave was for the unnumbered casket containing dismembered body fragments found after the fire and never claimed.

The Aid-Campaign

Many of the grief stricken families were also left without a breadwinner. The City reached out with a massive relief effort. Being one of the few Yiddish speakers in the WTUL, Rose was able to lead relief teams into the East Side tenements. She later remembered:

We went to the East Side to look for our people. Our workers in the Women's Trade Union League took the volunteers from the Red Cross and together we went to find those who, in this moment of great sorrow, had become oblivious to their own needs.

We found them.

You could find them by the flowers of mourning nailed to the doors of tenements. You could find them by the wailing in the streets of relatives and friends gathered for the funerals. But sometimes you climbed floor after floor up an old tenement, went down the long, dark hall, knocked on the door and after it was opened found them sitting there-a father and his children or an old mother who had lost her daughter-sitting there silent, crushed.

June 30, 1911
Albany, NY

Meetings and resolutions and committees of civic-reformers did produce results for the working women and girls of New York, for on this day the State Legislature created the New York Factory Investigating Commission. There were nine members, among them Robert F. Wagner, Sr, Alfred E. Smith, labor leader Samuel Gompers, and Mary Dreier, President of Women's Trade Union League. Frances Perkins and Rose Schneiderman were among the corps of inspectors. By the end of 1914, the Commission had produced 36 new laws, marking the beginning of the "golden era in remedial factory legislation."

March 25, 1961
Washington Place and Greene Street
New York City, NY

As the people of New York City gathered for the Fifty Year Memorial to honor the workers who lost their lives in the Triangle Fire, also on their minds were the twenty-five workers who had died in the Monarch Garment Factory fire just three years earlier. Meanwhile, on the desk of Governor Nelson Rockefeller lay a bill which favored the factory owners and landlords of the City with yet more time to comply with fire and safety regulations.

David Dubinsky, President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, gave a speech opposing the delay:

Yes, they need more time. The three years since Monarch is not enough time. The fifty years since Triangle is not enough time,-and the lives that have been lost, the lives of garment workers and firemen, are not enough lives.
We say enough! We say no more Triangles or Monarchs! We say that the toll of life taken by industrial slums must end just as we are wiping out the human cost of residential slums. And we say that it is an outrage in this state that has pioneered so much labor legislation, to have its Industrial Commissioner take a stand that increases rather than cuts down the danger in the shop.
We want a fitting memorial to the martyrs we honor today. No better one can be found than to increase the respect for and the safety of workers. I call on each and every one of you to write today to Governor Rockefeller and to demand that he veto the Albert-Folmer bill. Write to him in Albany, New York. In memory of those who have already been sacrificed to greed - write.

Monday 27 November 2000
The Guardian
Arshad Mahmud in Dhaka

The death of about 50 workers - mainly women and children - in a Bangladesh garment factory on Saturday has refocused attention on the poor working conditions in the industry...
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association's failure to protect the 1.2m workers, mostly women, who form the backbone of the industry, is causing growing anger.
About 300 have died since 1990, mainly in fires. People are asking how many more must die before something is done...
Few factories have an alarm system and the fire extinguishers rarely work. Staircases are invariably narrow, gates remain locked during working hours, and most factories lack emergency exits.
As a result, in an emergency - especially a fire - the workers often find themselves trapped, leading them to join potentially fatal stampedes or jump from the windows.

Nov 30, 2012
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Calling for better working conditions in the garment industry, protesters in Bangladesh took to the streets of Dhaka after 111 people perished in a factory fire last Saturday. Police watched from a distance as the protesters wearing Muslim white death robes lay down on the pavement in front of the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BMGEA). The protest was organised by a group called "Magic Movement".

The brave young woman speaking out at this protest is Sabhnaz Rashid Diya:

This incident has happened before, there were fires before, there were no reports. No proper jurisdiction, no proper um.. there was no law executed through the whole process and the families were not compensated enough. And this has been happening for year after year.

YouTube Video of Protest
Magic Movement on Facebook

The girls and women by their meetings and discussions come to understand and sympathize with each other, and more and more easily they act together. So we must stand together to resist, for we will get what we can take - just that and no more.
-Rose Schneiderman, 1905


Jewish Daily Forward
April 3, 1911: "Metropolitan Opera House Packed With Protest Meeting About the Fire
Jacob Schiff and Other Wealthy Individuals Speak — a Few Sharp Comments by a Representative of the Women’s Trade Union League" (translation)

The New York Times (pdf)
April 3, 1911: "Mass Meeting Calls for New Fire Laws"

A Footnote to Folly by Mary Heaton Vorse
NY, 1935

Speech at Memorial Meeting
by David Dubinsky, ILGWU President
Washington Place & Greene Street
New York City, NY, March 25, 1961

The Triangle Fire by Leon Stein
NY, 1962

Women and the American Labor Movement,
From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I

by Philip S. Foner
NY, 1979

Reading American Art by Marianne Doezema
p. 319
Yale U. Press, 1998

Triangle by David Von Drehle
NY, 2003

For Further Study

The Diary Of a Shirtwaist Striker by Teresa S. Malkiel
-a novel written in 1910 about the Uprising of the 20,00
I cannot recommend it enough! Good for adults and older children.
With introductory essay by Francoise Basch
NY, 1990

There are many online sources available, this is my favorite:

All for One by Rose Schneiderman & Lucy Goldthwaite
NY, 1967

Madam Secretary, Frances Perkins by Elisabeth P Myers
MY, 1972

And this excellent photo diary by Kossack, Eddie C
On the 100th Triangle Memorial

International Solidarity Action Resources

International Labor Rights Forum

International Labor Organization

Worker Rights Consortium

Global March Against Child Labor

International Trade Union Confederation/Child and Forced Labor

Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights

Child Labor Public Education Project
-no longer active, but good source for more links.

This diary is dedicated
To the men, women, and children who lost their lives while trying to make a living
Sewing the garments that clothe the world.
May we continue to fight for social and economic justice
That we might yet make sweet their resting place.

Mayn Rue-Platz




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This is a beautiful post!

NY brit expat's picture

From the triangle shirtwaist factory fire to the fires in garment factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh, we are fighting the same enemy. The fact that in the advanced capitalist world they are trying to undermine all our hard-fought for rights and that MNCs move to countries where they know that they can super-exploit working people, where unions are weak, where if safety regulations exist they are not enforced or where these regulations still have yet to be created.

Thank you for such a wonderful piece and all your hard work!

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JayRaye's picture

Thank you!

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Glad to see you here JayRaye!

NY brit expat's picture

There are excellent people on this site and they are trying to build something new! Pieces like this help that and also help get the information out! This is a beautiful diary, I cannot thank you enough for posting it in the anti-capitalist meetup! :)

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Wonderful piece, JayRaye.

Glinda's picture

Welcome.  It's very nice to see you here.  I "know" you from another site.

Again, welcome.  And thank you for your post.


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JayRaye's picture

Glinda. No strangers here!

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thx, poli

JayRaye's picture

They can try to undo the gains that were won with so much blood, but they will meet resistance.

And you can take that to the bank!

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Welcome to the fray JayRaye

LaEscapee's picture

Thank you for the history lesson and the tie in to the most recent tragedy very sad that these things have been too common throughout the years.

Glad you found us and hope to "hear" more from you.

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Welcome to VOTS

priceman's picture

Glad to have you here.

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