Essay About Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

At a series of mass meetings, thousands of strikers voted unanimously to reject the factory owners’ proposal.

They insisted on a closed shop provision in which all employees at a worksite were members of a union.

They demanded a 20-percent pay raise, a 52-hour workweek and extra pay for overtime.

The local union, along with the Women’s Trade Union League, held meetings in English and Yiddish at dozens of halls to discuss plans for picketing.

Meanwhile, the fiercely anti-union owners of the Triangle factory met with owners of the 20 largest factories to form a manufacturing association.

Many of the strike leaders worked there, and the Triangle owners wanted to make sure other factory owners were committed to doing whatever it took—from using physical force (by hiring thugs to beat up strikers) to political pressure (which got the police on their side)—to not back down.On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.Firefighters arrived at the scene, but their ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the upper floors of the 10-story building.In fall 1909, as factory owners pressed shirtwaist makers to work longer hours for less money, several hundred workers went on strike. 22, Local 25 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) convened a meeting to discuss a general strike. Nineteen-year-old Clara Lemlich was sitting in the crowd listening to the speakers—mostly men—caution against striking.Clara was one of the founders of Local 25, whose membership numbered only a few hundred, mostly female, shirtwaist and dressmakers.The large factories, which were the holdouts, knew they had lost the war of public opinion and were finally ready to negotiate.They agreed to higher pay and shorter hours but refused even to discuss a closed shop (where factories would hire only union members and treat union and nonunion workers equally in hiring and pay decisions).Trapped inside because the owners had locked the fire escape exit doors, workers jumped to their deaths.In a half an hour, the fire was over, and 146 of the 500 workers—mostly young women—were dead.Worn with an ankle-length skirt, the shirtwaist was appropriate for any occasion—from work to play—and was more comfortable and practical than fashion that preceded it, like corsets and hoops.Years before the Triangle fire, garment workers actively sought to improve their working conditions—including locked exits in high-rise buildings—that led to the deaths at Triangle.


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