The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory…a metaphor for the modern high-tech sweat shops – Part 1

102 years ago a careless mistake caused the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to become a fiery death trap.   It was perhaps the most deadly industrial accident in the history of New York City.  The loss of life was amongst the greatest in US history for any industrial accident. 146 garment workers died, the youngest victim a mere 14 years of age.

It was a seminal moment in the union movement during height of the gilded age. The management  had locked the doors to both stairwells and exits in order to prevent workers from leaving or taking clandestine breaks from the relentless 14 hour work day.  It was this casual disregard for worker safety which sparked tougher fire code laws.  It was a wake up call to the country that forced Americans to understand the sacrifices of the ordinary worker and it helped give birth to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

For a photo library of the fire and its aftermath click here.

For an excellent PBS episode about the Triangle Factory Fire on the PBS’s American Experience – Click here.  It takes some time, but it is well worth watching.

Let us understand on this Labor day that it was only in the wake of this type of massive loss of life, that workers started to gain a voice.  We must never ever forget what workers went through to gain the right to organize and collectively bargain for fair and decent wages and working conditions.  We also need to understand that we are headed down that road to a new gilded age where the value of work and the worker is being once again degraded into a commodity.  We need to push back against  a corporate elite that denigrates the value of the work while elevating themselves into a position of grandeur by anointing  themselves “job creators”.

The Triangle Factory fire can be seen as a metaphor for 21st century exploitation in the workplace.  In Part 2, the 21st century version of the sweat shop will be discussed.  Who are the new working grunts and who comprises the new elite.

© 2013 – RGHicks – – All rights reserved

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