Monday, February 28, 2011

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and Binghamton

We are coming up on the 100th anniversary of a fire that took more lives in NY City than any event until September 11, 2001.  And, this fire has echos in Binghamton, as I've blogged before- we had our own clothing factory fire in July of 1913.  31 people died in our fire.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire, two years before, took the lives of 146 people in New York City.   Right now I'm watching a PBS documentary on this fire.

Ironically, the factory was considered a step up from the "sweatshops".  Workers aspired to work there because of the "modern" conditions.

The Binghamton fire helped to fuel (so to speak) the drive to strengthen safety codes that started with the NYC fire.  Work in a building that has open exits?  Are you protected by a minimum wage law?  You owe that privilege to the people that died on those two days.

We must never let anything like this happen again.  Think we are safe? Remember that history tends to repeat itself if people forget the lessons that history teaches us.  Right now we are still struggling with issues surrounding business, and how much government intervention there should be.  Even, yes, child labor.

There is a lot of fascinating history behind the production of shirtwaists (yes, they still exist today) and the union movement.  I can remember, in my childhood, small garment factories in buildings on White Plains Road in the Bronx.  Sometimes, on very hot days, they kept doors open and you were able to peek inside.   wonder, as an adult, about what exactly I was witnessing in those quick peeks as my mother walked me past those buildings.

Meanwhile, in Binghamton, the former site of the factory that burned on Wall Street finally got a monument-last year.

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