The Triangle Fire 1911

Who Is Responsible?

Source: The Call, Tuesday, March 28, 1911;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.

The shock of horror that passed through the community at the awful news that one hundred and fifty workers, mostly women and young girls, were burned to death in the Triangle factory fire has of necessity diverted the attention of the public from the decision of the Court of Appeals of this State annulling the recently enacted Workmen’s Compensation Law.

The actual murder of one hundred and fifty workers has caused the public to forget, at least temporarily, that the Court of Appeals has, by its decision, virtually said to the capitalists of the State and the land: You may go on murdering as many working men and women and children as you find necessary in order to extract the last possible dollar of profit out of your respective businesses. We, the judges enthroned in supreme political power, rule that the people cannot, through their chosen legislative representatives, curb your lust for gold and blood.

The grief-stricken families of the working-class, suddenly robbed of their beloved mothers and sisters and breadwinners, are in no condition to search for the causes of this holocaust. And even the general public is only too prone to ask for the punishment of those immediately responsible, and to ask for no more than that. If swift and instant punishment were to overtake the criminally negligent public officials, the owner of the building, who failed to provide the necessary means of safety, and the manufacturers, who are among the most notorious oppressors of labor in the garment trade of this city — if these were to suffer prompt retribution for their criminal negligence and insatiable greed, the general public would breathe a sigh of relief and be happy in the thought that “justice was done” and that other catastrophes would be prevented.

Alas, we know that the public is doomed to be disappointed. No justice will be done. Neither the high-placed city officials, nor the house owner, not the manufacturers will receive the punishment befitting their stupendous crime. The men of wealth and power will be protected by all the tremendous influences that wealth and power can bring to bear upon “justice,” as “justice” is administered in this city. The newspapers, now so loud in their demand for “justice,” will soon be clamoring about some other sensational occurrence. And the whole horrible tragedy will soon be forgotten by all but the grief-stricken families of the victims.

We have witnessed these newspaper spasms more than once, and we know how soon they pass into oblivion.

But the thinking elements of the working class will not soon forget this ghastly tragedy. They have not forgotten the holocaust of the St. Paul’s mine, or the Trinidad mine, or of the Newark fire, or of the New York Central explosion.

The intelligent workers know that more working men, women and children are being killed and maimed in this country than in any other civilized country. They know that the lives of the workers are rated lower in this country than in any other country.

And they also know the cause of this shameful condition. The intelligent workers know that there exists a very close relation between the Court of Appeals annulling that rudimentary and most inadequate Workmen’s Compensation Law and the burning to death of one hundred and fifty workers, mostly women and young girls.

It is, of course, only a matter of accident that the holocaust at the Triangle factory occurred less than twenty-four hours after the publication of the Court of Appeals decision. But this is one of those accidents that throw a glaring light upon a whole situation. The almost simultaneous occurrence of these two events is a truly frightful symbol of the actual situation of the American working class.

Who are the public officials immediately and indisputably responsible for the Triangle factory fire? The factory inspectors say, Not we. The Buildings Department officials say, Not we. The Fire Department officials say, Not we. Each department throws the blame upon the law, or the lack of law.

Why are more working men, women and children killed and maimed in the United States than in any other civilized country? The legislators avoid the responsibility, throwing the blame upon the courts. And the courts say they are not guilty, so help them God, and throw the blame upon the dead and the immutable letter of the Constitution.

This division of authority exists whenever action is demanded in the interests of the working class. But it disappears as soon as action is demanded in the interests of the capitalist class.

A law protecting the lives of working men, women and children meets with almost insuperable obstacles in the various legislatures. But if passed in a mutilated and most inadequate form, it is either annulled by the courts or it remains a dead letter.

But let a great strike menace the profits of the capitalists, and an army is rushed into Chicago. Let “American interests” be disturbed by a popular uprising in a neighboring country, and an army is rushed to the frontier. Let China or Honduras or Turkey be contemplating the making of loans and concessions, or let Germany interfere with the operations of American fertilizer companies, and all the machinery in the State Department is set in motion.

In short, our government is bound hand and foot in so far as the interests of the working class are concerned. But it acts with the speed of lightning whenever the interests of the capitalists are concerned.

But who is to blame in the last resort? Why is it that executives and legislators and judges serve so loyally the interests of the capitalist class and care so little for the lives of the working class?

Alas, it is we ourselves, the men and women of the working class, that are most to blame. It is we ourselves that bear the ultimate responsibility. It is because we tolerate and obey a Court of Appeals that annuls a most inadequate Workmen’s Compensation Law, that our brothers and sisters are burned to death in a huge fire trap. It is because we elect executives and legislators and judges, sworn to obey the mandates of the capitalist class, that the property of the capitalists is held sacred, and not the lives of the workers. It is because we tamely submit to every aggression that we are held in utter contempt. It is because we dare not demand anything of moment that nothing is given us, and even the little that we have — the lives of those dear to us — is taken away from us. It is because we ourselves are devoid of courage and easily corrupted that our leaders are cowards and foul with corruption. It is because we ourselves are swayed by every passing breeze that our leaders become Civic-Federationized and our master punish us with rods and scourges. It is because the working class of this country has no self-consciousness and no self-respect, because it has not yet risen to a comprehension of its great historic destiny, that we rot in material, intellectual and moral misery, and that we are simultaneously visited by such punishments as the Court of Appeals decision and the Triangle factory holocaust.