The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire … the dust of their labors, a poem

Triangle_Shirtwaist_coffinsits red tongue licked and
ate the fabric of their dreams, the
depth of their immigrant hopes,
it burned like greed, like it was
the only thing that counted,
it consumed their very breath
and the dust of their labors

Yesterday was the 105th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

MARCH 25, 1911: Until the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 (9/11), the worst large-scale disaster in my home town, New York City, was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It remains the fourth largest industrial accident in the history of the United States. Its victims were mostly immigrant young women with an average age of seventeen years. Many jumped from the building rather than burn to death.

146 girls were killed that day. This was the unmitigated result of corporate greed that kept workers earning their bread in an unsafe building, locked in workrooms from which they couldn’t escape, adding injury to the insult of long hours, abusive supervisors, and poor compensation with no benefits.

The legacy of this disaster was a turning point in the American labor struggle for fair wages and workplace dignity and safety.

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© Jamie Dedes; photographs are in the public domain

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