Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Echoes from the Triangle Fire. Dr. Price Suggests Co-operation Between the Waist Makers' Union and the Board of Sanitary Control

Ladies' Garment Worker, September, 1911. p.6.

Parents and friends of the 145 victims who were in the Triangle fire, says the New York "Call," and of the scores of workers who saved their lives but were maimed and injured, have written, telephoned and appeared in person at the office of the Ladies' Waist and Dress Makers' Union, in the last two days, calling upon the union to see to it that Harris & Blanck, the owners of the Triangle shop, be brought to trial.

The parents and friends of the victims also called upon the union officials to demand and account from the Red Cross as to the manner in which $100,000 collected for the benefit of the families of the fire victims, has been disposed of, if it had been disposed of.

As a result of these numerous calls the Executive Board of the Ladies' Waist Maker's Union stirred up the committee of three which has been appointed some time ago to look into the Triangle case, to immediate, vigorous activity.

The committee, which consists of Sam Spivack, A. Silver, and Sam Gusman, met last night at 151 Clinton street to decide upon plans to co-operate with the parents and friends of the fire victims, and to determine upon ways and means of improving conditions in the shops where the lives of workers are daily exposed to the fire panics.

Several of the parents and friends of the Triangle victims, who called at the office of the Ladies' Waist Makers' Union, said that they will either get up a petition or will write personal letters to District Attorney Whitman calling upon him to bring Harris and Blanck to trial.

Dr. George M. Price, M. D., the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Joint Board of Sanitary Control in the Cloak and Suit Industry of New York, has written to the "Call" suggesting a way in which the Board might co-operate with the Waistmakers' Union.

Americans need big shocks, says Dr. Price.
Because several meeting have been held, because a "safety committee" has been appointed, because the papers devoted a few pages to factory fire damages, it is not to be expected that the 30,000 shops in the city should have suddenly become improved, that new fire escapes should have been put in where needed, and that workers should have become interested in protecting their lives from fires instead of devoting their whole time to the most important question of election of business delegates?

Dr. Price continues:
"To compel the owners of the loft buildings to make radical improvements in their buildings, to spend huge sums for the protection of the lives and limbs of their tenants; to make lessees of shops institute fire drills, buy fire extinguishing apparatus and make other provisions for safety; to rouse the workers themselves to the necessity of taking care of their own lives and health, something more than newspaper talk, than creation of safety committees or State commissions are necessary.

Workers Must Depend Upon Selves.
The salvation of the working class depends upon the workingmen themselves.

This is true not only in economics, but also in sanitation. As long as the workingmen themselves are so negligent of their lives and health as to leave their protection out of their legislative demands, as long as the laboring class is indifferent to the most cardinal principles of safety and sanitation, and as long as the enforcement of labor laws in the hands of politicians and outside of the co-operation of working unions, so long will there be unsafe factories and unhealthy shops.

After the Triangle fire hundreds of complaints were sent to the Women's Trade Union League, but these complaints were hardly investigated, as the T.U.L. had no proper force for their investigation, nor any means for enforcing better conditions.

The "Safety Committee" consists of some prominent men and women in the city. This committee has just completed an investigation of 400 factory buildings, and is preparing the report on conditions found.

There is also a special committee appointed by the Governor, the commission consisting of four lay members and seven Senators and Assemblyman, with the purpose of investigating factory conditions as to their relation to safety and health.

The Legislature also passed the "Hoye bill" which has been approved by the Mayor and is not as yet signed by the Governor. This bill provides for the creation of a new "fire-prevention bureau" in the Fire Department with a chief and several hundreds of inspectors whose duty it will be to inspect buildings, make recommendations as to their improvements for fire prevention and to order such improvements.

More Than Legislation Needed
But, as I said before, no amount of legislation, no increase in the agencies for investigation and enforcements, and not matter how many hundreds of inspectors are appointed, conditions in factories and shops will always remain dangerous until workingmen themselves will awake to the importance of the problem of safety and health and will enter these into their daily program and make them as important demands in their economic and political platforms.

Of all the trade or labor unions, the Cloak Makers' Union seems to be the most progressive in sanitary matters and they alone of all the unions have taken a firm and radical stand on the question. The leaders, as well as the rank and file of the Cloak Makers' Union are in perfect accord with the Board of Sanitary Control and not only support it, but also call out their men whenever and wherever we show them that conditions as to safety and sanitation are such as to endanger life and health. In our last inspection we have discovered eighteen shops conducted in filthy cellars and shall soon present them to the unions for their actions.

What the Cloak Makers' Unions are doing the others may also do, and there is no reason why there should not be co-operation between the Waist Makers' Union and our board which is at all times willing to assist, make investigations and otherwise help out unions in sanitary matters. I believe the time will come when every labor union will have on its executive committee expert sanitarians to take charge of sanitary matters as there are other members to take charge of financial and organization matters.

Illustration of a woman kneeling next to a grave site and a caption that reads, how soon will they be forgotten?