This week marks the 100th anniversary of the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, in which 146 workers, most women and girls, lost their lives on March 25, 1911. The fire broke out in a Greenwich Village sweatshop, on the top three stories of a building with only a single, rickety fire escape for 500 workers and no fire alarms, and where the owners had locked most of the doors. The workers trapped on the 9th floor died within 20 minutes. Two years before, in 1909, The workers at Triangle, the largest makers of shirtwaist (blouses) had led a strike for better conditions and pay, which brought out 20,000-40,000 workers, many of them women immigrants, in the garment district.
The fire shocked the nation, although the owners were acquitted of manslaughter in a later trial. The tragedy did lead to a two-year investigation of horrific factory conditions in the U.S., where an average of 100 workers — who of course included children — lost their lives every DAY in the miserable workplace conditions. One eyewitness to the fire was social worker Frances Perkins, later FDR’s Secretary of Labor, who called it “the day the New Deal began.” FDR chose Perkins, the first woman cabinet member, to lead the fight to see the comprehensive Social Security legislation through the U.S. Congress. – LaRouche