Triangle Shirtwaist Company was ladies' garments manufacturing firm owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. The doors and all exits were kept locked to prevent theft of materials and unsupervised breaks. Due to the pathetic working conditions in the factory, a massive number of casualties was recorded when a factory fire broke out.
Prior to the fire in 1911, shirtwaist workers had gone on strike demanding better working conditions and better remuneration. Workers streamed out of Triangle Company and for four months, they went on strike. International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) negotiated a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) but Triangle Shirtwaist Company refused to sign the agreement. Then the fire happened
The triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York remains the biggest disaster in New York. On this fateful day (March 25th, 1911), 146 workers died after the fire broke out in the eighth floor of the ten floors Asch Building where triangle shirtwaist factory was located. Of the 146 workers who died, 123 were women and the remaining 23 were men. Many died from the fire, smoke inhalation or jumped to their death.
Many of the workers were young Jewish and Italian immigrants. Many of them were young people; the youngest being 14 while the oldest victim of the fire was 43. The workers worked for 14-hours a day shifts for seven days. Despite the extraordinary working time, the pay was poor- $1.5 per week.
Reactions to the fire
The company owners were charged with first and second-degree manslaughter. They were acquitted however after it appeared like the witnesses had been coached. But the most significant events and reactions were seen in the form of workers' rights. The Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) pushed for comprehensive safety and workers' compensation laws.
The WTUL also went up in arms against the oppressive laws which favored the employers and had little regard for the employees. The ILGWU formed alliances with local officials to push for reforms in the workers' rights.
The New York State Legislature investigated the working conditions in Triangle Shirtwaist Company and in other cities. This helped the legislature come up with laws to protect workers from oppressive employers. The issues of fire safety and risks of injury were looked into. This helped New York State Legislature modernize the state's labor laws. Factories were required by law to have fireproofing equipment, automatic sprinklers, alarm system, fire extinguishers and hygienic eating and bathroom facilities.
The triangle waist shirt disaster forced the government to rethink its strategy of letting business owners do what they thought was good for them. In most cases, the owners of businesses were more interested in registering profits, completely disregarding the safety and rights of the workers. After the disaster, governments moved in to regulate the factories in order to safeguard the rights of the workers.
The fire also had the effect of strengthening the unions. After workers saw what had happened in this disaster, they pushed to be registered as unionists. This is because they can fight for their rights more effectively this way.
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