The Triangle Fire 1911
Source: The Call (New York) March 30, 1911;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.
The horrors of the Triangle fire were lived over again last night by an immense throng of girl waist makers, along with many men and women, who filled Grand Central Palace and listened to the tributes paid the victims of Saturday’s holocaust, at the memorial meeting held by the Waist makers’ Union.
When Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish daily Forward, closed a brief, broken address with a warning that the 140-odd new graves are not the closing chapter of the sacrifices demanded by capitalism, and that unless the workers take the matter of safeguarding themselves in their own hands other such catastrophes are sure to follow, the audience was on the verge of hysteria.
A tense moment and this hysteria would come to the surface.
The tense moment came when Jacob Panken, the chairman of the evening, asked the audience to rise and remain standing a few minutes in honor of the dead.
The audience rose. For a moment there was silence in the hall — a silence like that of death. Then there came a soft sobbing which changed the next instant into convulsive weeping.
A girl in the audience, who had herself worked in the Triangle factory and who escaped being burned to death by a hair’s breadth, began to shriek hysterically. This was the signal, as it were, for screaming and fainting in every part of the hall. A scores of more girls collapsed. Others became so hysterical that they had to be carried into an adjoining room.
Water and glasses, which were evidently prepared for just such an emergency, were greatly in demand for about ten minutes.
After the women were carried out of the hall speaking was again resumed. Every few minutes, however, the speakers were interrupted when someone was overcome and was being carried out of the room.
The speeches of the evening, as befitting the occasion, were devoid of all oratorical frills.
Morris Hillquit said that there were occasions and moments when words were abominable and speeches contemptible. Last night’s meeting, he said, was such an occasion. The fire, he said, had been hanging over him like a nightmare all week. The 146 young graves, he said, showed the monstrosity of the system we live under in a ghastly manner. It was distasteful to him to exploit such a calamity for politics. But, he said, sacred as the occasion was, it was not too sacred to be exploited in the cause of working class politics. He declared that the catastrophe of last Saturday was being duplicated in similar proportion every month, every week throughout the world. It is the business of capitalism to have such catastrophes. It saves fire escapes, it saves safety devices and protection against dangerous machinery.
Jacob Panken said that the charred figures of the dead shirtwaist makers are now pointing to those judges who sent these girls to the workhouse, because they were striking against the conditions which made for just such conflagrations.
“I say deliberately,” Panken said, “that if the shirtwaist makers strike had not been broken by the magistrates the thing would never have happened. The fire occurred Saturday at 5 o'clock. If the shop were a union shop the girls would long have been home by that time on Saturday.
“The triangle fire was not accidental. More fires like this are bound to occur. I have had today brought in to me names and addresses of shops in the same block with the Triangle shop which are fire traps no less.
“If we are to be safeguarded against another such slaughter we must not depend upon what the city authorities will do for us. They will do nothing. They can do nothing. We must do it ourselves. We must ourselves begin inspecting the shops, report the conditions of the shops to the union, and take action the minute we learn of a fire trap.”
Abraham Cahan advised the waist makers and all other workers to make investigations of their shops, and if they are found to be fire traps, to declare a strike in these places, and not return to work until they have been made safe and habitable.
A.M. Simons, editor of the Coming nation, concerned himself with the guilt for the fire. Simons said: “The administration is trying to find who is responsible for the fire; who is guilty. Well, I will tell who is guilty. The entire city administration is guilty. The system which makes it impossible to balance human life against profits is guilty. If you would erect a monument to your burned sisters and brothers, then consecrate yourself to the wiping out of the social order of today.”
J. Goldstein urged the girls to stick to their organization, to make it strong, as it is in the union that they can find their only salvation.
Miss Leonora O'Reilly, of the Women’s Trade Union League, spoke in the same vein.
Arthuro Caroti made an impressive address in Italian.