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This Is What The Republican Party Stands For

March 24, 2011

On March 25th, 1911 a large fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York resulting in the gruesome deaths of 146 people, mostly women and teenage girls.

It was the deadliest industrial catastrophe in the history of New York City.

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits – two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place – flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft. The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions. Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, a flimsy and poorly-anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below. Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped down the empty shaft. The weight of these bodies made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.

A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing sixty-two people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building.

The broken, burned bodies of women and children forced to work unbearable hours in treacherous sweatshops for slave wages, all in the name of profit for their corporate masters.  This is the unregulated industry Republicans fight for.  This is their dream.

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building’s roof when the fire began, were indicted on charges of first and second degree manslaughter in mid-April; the pair’s trial began on December 4, 1911. Max Steuer, counsel for the defendants, managed to destroy the credibility of one of the survivors, Kate Alterman, by asking her to repeat her testimony a number of times — which she did without altering key phrases. Steuer argued to the jury that Alterman and possibly other witnesses had memorized their statements, and might even have been told what to say by the prosecutors. The defense also stressed that the prosecution had failed to prove that the owners knew the exit doors were locked at the time in question. The jury acquitted the two men, but they lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim. The insurance company paid Blanck and Harris about $60,000 more than the reported losses, or about $400 per casualty. In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours. He was fined $20.

Two years before the horrific fire, the workers at the Triangle factory participated in an industry-wide strike in an attempt to gain higher wages, a shorter work week, and better working conditions.  Many of the nearly 20,000 strikers won at least some of their demands, mostly at the smaller factories, but not the Triangle workers.  They finally returned to work without any changes in conditions or recognition of their union.  They paid a devastating price.

The fire had differing effects on the community. For some it radicalized them still further; as Rose Schneiderman said in her speech at the memorial meeting held in the Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911 to an audience largely made up of the well-heeled members of the WTUL:

I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

One hundred years later we’re still fighting the same fight.  Multinational corporations have sent millions of factory jobs overseas to avoid even the most basic safety and wage requirements.  In order to “compete” they undercut our middle class workers by depressing wages down to near poverty level, gutting pension plans, and providing only high-deductible junk insurance to their already struggling families.  It’s a criminal enterprise bankrolled by the blood of average workers who feel they have no where else to go.  And now they want to destroy the right to Unionize all together.

The Triangle Fire would have changed nothing without the actions of “radical” union members and leaders demanding justice and reform.  That is why the Republican party has been working so hard to destroy the power of unions, because they are the last source of true political power that average people have.

This is what the Republican Party stands for.  They are the champions of despicably rich sociopaths who would trade the lives of a thousand workers for a bigger swimming pool or a new limo, and now they’re on the verge of winning the class war they’ve been waging for well over a hundred years.

If you happen to have HBO you should definitely make time to watch this.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Is this progress?

In December 2010, a incident similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire occurred when a fire broke out at the Hameem factory in Savar, Bangladesh, which was sewing garments for Gap. Twenty-nine workers died and over 100 were injured. The workers at the clothing factory told the institute that security guards locked the exits during the fire to prevent garments from being stolen.

Most workers at the factory worked 80 hours per week and made only 28 cents an hour, just one tenth as much as the Triangle workers did in 1911. Additionally, workers at the Hameem factory were not allowed to form a union.

We’ve simply outsourced our abuse of workers to third world countries.  Shameful.

If this video doesn’t tear you apart inside, then you have no soul.

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