From a reader:

Globalization has been the ingenious “get out of jail free” card the corporations have played:

As these “savvy businessmen” go global to freely impose the conditions which appalled America a century ago (The number of confirmed dead from the Bangladesh garment factory collapse and fire Is approaching and will certainly surpass 1000,)

I offer this:

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911

At the time of the fire the only safety measures available for the workers were 27 buckets of water and a fire escape that would collapse when people tried to use it. Most of the doors were locked and those that were not locked only opened inwards and were effectively held shut by the onrush of workers escaping the fire.

As the clothing materials feed the fire workers tried to escape anyway they could. 25 passengers flung themselves down the elevator shaft trying to escape the fire. Their bodies rained blood and coins down onto the employees who made it into the elevator cars. Engine Company 72 and 33 were the first on the scene. To add to the already bleak situation the water streams from their hoses could only reach the 7th floor.

Their ladders could only reach between the 6th and 7th floor. 19 bodies were found charred against the locked doors. 25 bodies were found huddled in a cloakroom. These deaths, although horrible, was not what changed the feelings toward government regulation. Upon finding that they could not use the doors to escape and the fire burning at their clothes and hair, the girls of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, aged mostly between 13 and 23 years of age, jumped 9 stories to their death.

One after another the girls jumped to their deaths on the concrete over one hundred of feet below. Sometimes the girls jumped three and four at a time. On lookers watched in horror as body after body fell to the earth. “Thud — dead; thud — dead; thud — dead; thud — dead. Sixty-two thud — deads. I call them that, because the sound and the thought of death came to me each time, at the same instant,” said United Press reporter William Shephard.

The bodies of teenage girls lined the street below. Blankets that would-be rescuers used ripped at the weight and the speed the bodies were falling. Fire Department blankets were ripped when multiple girls tried to jump into the same blanket. Some girls tried to jump to the ladders that could not reach the ninth floor. None reached the ladders. The fire escape in the rear of the building collapsed and trapped the employees even more.

A wealthy Bostonian who had come to New York for a Columbia University graduate degree, Frances Perkins (April 10, 1882 – May 14, 1965) was having tea nearby on March 25 when she heard the fire engines. She arrived at the scene of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in time to see workers jumping from the windows above.

Her words, spoken a little more than 50 years later, capture her own feelings and those of her contemporaries. “I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 boys and girls killed in a factory.

This scene motivated Perkins to work for reform in working conditions, especially for women and children. She served on the Committee on Safety of the City of New York as executive secretary, working to improve factory conditions.

Frances Perkins met Franklin D. Roosevelt in this capacity, while he was New York governor, and in 1932, he appointed her as Secretary of Labor, the first woman to be appointed to a cabinet position.

Frances Perkins called the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire “the day the New Deal began.”


The Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union burst into the national consciousness in 1909 when 20,000 shirtwaist makers went on strike in New York City. .

The 1909 strike lasted 14 weeks, Union membership grew to 25,000 by the strike’s end.. Most of the larger factories had settled with the growing union, and conditions for workers seemed to be improving.

But the owners of the Triangle Waist Company, the largest blouse factory in the city at the time, led the opposition to the 1909 strike, hfiring thugs and prostitutes to harass the workers as they picketed.

Triangle was among the few nonunion holdouts when the factory went up in flamesMarch 25 of 1911, killing 146 workers.

“Everyone noticed that the Triangle factory, the one nonunionized shop, was the place of the fire. The company’s refusal to work with the unions was especially poignant, because a decent fire escape, and factory doors that opened outward, had been among the strikers’ demands.


Cornell University – ILR School – The Triangle Factory Fire – Legacy – Legislative Reform