One hundred years ago on March 25, 1911 a fire erupted on the top floors of a shirtwaist factory in a Manhattan that in just 30 minutes took the lives of 146 workers, mostly young women. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire sparked reform in workplace health and safety as well as a drive to organize garment workers, but 100 years later workers are still struggling for safe workplaces and a voice on the job.
The fire and its aftermath remade the American workplace. Dozens of fire safety laws– basic things like requiring fire exits– were adopted as a direct result of worker organizing inspired by this tragedy. It built public support for the nascent union movement that created the middle class. Collective bargaining is what enabled American workers to achieve a comfortable standard of living.
Today, from Wisconsin to NYC the right to collective bargaining is being threatened. 250 writers and producers working in nonfiction TV voted to join the Writers Guild and bargain collectively for better pay and healthcare . But employers like ITV and Lion TV are now refusing to recognize their employees’ democratic choice to negotiate a contract collectively. Learn more about the movement to change non-fiction TV at NonFictionUnited.org.
For a comprehensive look at the Triangle Fire in the context of contemporary worker struggles around the country visit the AFL-CIO’s blog to read and watch their feature “The Triangle Fire: Still Burning Before Our Nation”.
Triangle Fire, a documentary written by WGAE member Mark Zwonitzer, was aired on PBS to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. Click here to watch it online at the American Experience website.
Today and over the following few days there will be events around the country to commemorate the tragedy and catalyze support for improving workers rights. Please visit the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition’s site for a calendar of events.
Elana Levin is Director of Communications for the Writers Guild of America, East. Thank you to the Transport Workers Union site for letting me paraphrase the opening paragraph of your article “Struggle for Workers’ Rights Continues 100 Year Later” which is an excellent read.