The Triangle Fire 1911
Source: The Call (New York) March 27, 1911;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.
The fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory was a murder, a ghastly, horrible murder, and one that will be duplicated again and again while building owners are permitted, for the sake of saving a few hundred dollars, to endanger the lives of countless workers. That such a tragedy would occur has been foretold over and over again. Chief Croker of the Fire Department has issued repeated warnings. All of them fell on deaf ears. To carry out the necessary reforms would have cost money, and money is sacred and must be protected. Human life is not sacred and may be sacrificed endlessly.
Immediately after the Newark disaster there was a great flurry and much talk. Conditions exactly similar to those in Newark were pointed out here. Demands were made for safeguarding buildings in which people were employed. Fire traps in plenty were mentioned and commented upon. But that was all.
Every attempt that is made to pass satisfactory building laws, to safeguard those who work in factories, to provide adequate means of exit, is met with strenuous, unflagging and bitter opposition. More means of exit would require the use of increased space, and space in New York is valuable. Adequate fire escapes cost a few thousand dollars for a large building. So their construction has been fought. The so-called fireproof buildings usually have elevators and narrow, winding stairways. When a fire gets underway the elevators cannot be worked, and the stairways prove useless. Then as there are no outside escapes, those in the building are doomed to a horrible death.
It is a condition that was known, and that was fought against. But the builders had the money to defeat all legislation, and those who have control of the Building Department, either because they were blind, ignorant or criminal, have permitted even existing ordinances to be ineffective. Violations are everyday matters, and yet nothing was done. Even Mayor Gaynor, who could find plenty of warrant in law for the turning of the Police Department over to the express companies for the purpose of breaking a strike, could evidently find no warrant for the use of the police in an investigation of conditions that were everywhere known to be a menace to thousands of persons.
And this condition of affairs is one of the fruits of capitalism. Those who own the buildings also control the legislative bodies and dominate all departments that may have to do with buildings. That same class that owns and controls also does the employing. They are perfectly willing to risk the lives of their employees in these fire traps. They are absolutely opposed to spending any money for appliances that would render employment safer.
In every way the criminal laxity and vicious opposition to decent building laws are born of the same lust for wealth that as so far blocked all attempts to obtain an efficient employers’ liability law. It is born in the exploitation of the working class, and as profits grow greatest when the exploitation is the harshest, the exploitation is pushed to the limit. Every attempt to obtain better sanitary conditions has been fought. Every attempt to obtain adequate fire laws has been fought. In other words, every attempt of the working class members to protect life and limb has been fought by those who exploit the working class.
The horror of the present disaster will doubtless cause a tremendous outcry of rage, of sorrow and resentment. Will it lead to a change of the present criminal conditions? Girls 16, 17 and 18 years old, just come to womanhood, predominate among the victims. Why they were open to such a harrowing fate is shown in the case of some of the dead with their pay envelopes still clutched in their charred fingers. for five, six or seven dollars a week they endured the endless hours of drudgery and ran all the risk.
Their living fellow workers and thousands of other good people may fight to end the perils. But they will not be ended if the capitalist building owners can prevent it. Even to save lives they will not spend money. But aroused public opinion has an opportunity now to wipe out that menace. The Building Department, the Police Department and the Fire Department should rigorously enforce existing laws. That will do something. But newer, saner, more scientific laws are needed. They should be passed and any anti-fire lobby that attempts to frustrate the passing of them should be ruthlessly crushed.
The expected has happened, and it is not the worst that can happen. the city is full of similar places.
Mayor Gaynor has his duty plain before him.
Let him show in this instance that he possesses the same resourcefulness that he evinced in winning the express strike for the express monopoly.