By Andi Sosin and Joel Sosinsky, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition
Each March 25th, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, unionists, the fire department and all who advocate for worker safety gather in New York City to mark that infamous day in 1911 when 146 garment workers lost their lives in the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire. In remembering 1911 as a turning point for labor rights in America, it is important to be aware that preventable industrial tragedies are still happening around the world today. Taking notice that the excesses of capitalism result in worldwide tragedies, this March 25th, along with chalking the names of the Triangle fire victims like Rosie Weiner and Lucia Maltese, names including Mukhlesur Rahaman and Sujon Ahmed, sewing machine operators who died in a December 2010 factory fire in Bangladesh, were written in chalk in front of the Triangle factory’s landmark building.
In similarity to the aftermath of the Triangle fire, outrage and conscience have brought on positive changes for Bangladeshi garment workers. A new agreement on safety standards, inspections and audits of safety in garment factories is being financed by the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger’s brand, made in the factory where the fire took the Bangladeshi workers’ lives, and there is hope that the safety memorandum will be supported by more clothing designers. However, progress in safety is still accompanied by continued danger for labor leaders in Bangladesh.
One hundred and one years ago, the Triangle fire was the direct impetus for improved regulations and enforcement of fire and building codes, it contributed to a more progressive government stance that endorsed labor unionism, and its legacy of worker solidarity ultimately resulted in the social safety net Americans take for granted today. Now, to highlight the need for labor rights and safety protections worldwide, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition wants to harness citizen indignation over the existence of preventable industrial tragedies in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. At this year’s Triangle commemoration, the Coalition announced an international competition to design a public art memorial to the fire’s victims that will pay tribute to the spirit of social activism that was so important in pressuring political change then, and can become a symbol of the need for labor rights worldwide. To find out more about the Triangle fire memorial competition, go to rememberthetrianglefire.org
Photo from the 101st Commemoration showing the Bangladeshi names in chalk in front of the Asch Building, taken by Joel Sosinsky.