Trina Tocco, Deputy Director, International Labor Rights Forum
March 25th was the 98th anniversary of the unforgettable Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire which is often framed as one of the key events that resulted in extensive changes to U.S. law and enforcement in garment factories. This fire also helped to build the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union which is known today as UNITE.
The summary of this important event is that 148 people died in 1911 from this disaster because the fire exits were locked. The owners were able to make it up to the roof and ended up surviving. This was the 2nd major disaster in New York City's history.
This is a great photo montage on YouTube
Another video that shares the stories of one of the women that survived the fire is available at http://stevenlathamproductions.com/video/3miracles.html
One thing that angers me the most about this fire is the fact that there are still cases of fire exits being locked in garment factories in operation right now. In 2006, there was a fire at KTS Textile Mills in Bangladesh where over 50 workers died and many others were injured. Another factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2005 with close to 100 deaths as a result because the factory had been constructed on a swamp and hadn't even bothered to get government approval before building the factory and beginning operations.
As stated in a Daily Star article last year, there are five recent cases of fires in Bangladesh, all of which could have been prevented!
* On May 3rd 2004, nine women were trampled to death and 50 others injured when they ran for their lives after a false fire alarm at Misco Super Market, Dhaka. 3,000 to 5,000 workers from five garment factories jam-packed in the Misco Supermarket complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. While some of the workers exited through the fire escapes, most workers took the main stairway to the front gate of the building, where they found the gate locked
* On the morning of August 8, 2001, in Dhaka's Mirpur area, at 9 am, a worker at Mico Sweater Ltd., on the seventh floor of the building, sounded the alarm after seeing flames shooting from the electric circuit board. Workers from five different units converged on the stairs, but found the single exit locked and the security guard absent. In the resulting stampede, twenty four workers died and over one hundred were injured.
* March, 2006, three female workers were killed and 50 were injured in the Saiem Fashion Ltd fire and the subsequent stampede to escape the burning building. The only exit to the factory was deliberately blocked by boxes
* 26 killed in a fire in a garments fire in Kafrul, August 01, 2001
* On 6 March, 2006, 3 more garment workers were killed in a stampede from a fire panic at a Gazipur garment factory, near Dhaka.
* A fire occurred on November 25, 2000 at the Chowdhury Knitwear and Garments Ltd factory in Narsinghdi. Some 600 workers who were working at the time surged towards the single narrow staircase, but found both the main gate and the emergency gates locked. Most of the 46 victims died of suffocation or were crushed to death in the panic.
This anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is a time for us to reflect on the past and recommit ourselves to making sure that whether its in the U.S. or Bangladesh, that NOT ONE MORE WORKER dies in a preventable fire.