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Posted on: Mar 27, 2017
Saturday, March 25, marked the 116th anniversary of one of the most iconic and tragic events involving worker welfare and safety: the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The factory was located on the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building  in New York City, and produced women's blouses (shirtwaists). Workers were mostly immigrant women, some as young as 14.
 
A year before the fire, the workers participated in a city-wide demonstration demanding improved working conditions. Conditions prompting the march included long hours, low wages, poor ventilation, and cramped and dirty working conditions.
 
On March 25, 1911, fire broke on the ninth floor. The floors were strewn with combustible scraps and machine oil.  Workers described bits of thread hanging suspended in the heavy air. Attempts to control the fire proved fruitless. The fire escape collapsed. As the fire grew, many workers, particularly on the ninth floor, found no means of exit. Many jumped to certain death.
 
123 women and 23 men died in the fire. Accounts from survivors and witnesses in the streets were horrific.  For a next day newspaper account, click here.
 
Victims received little or no compensation. Meanwhile, the two owners were acquitted of criminal charges and recovered a large insurance settlement. . Several commissions were formed to study the event and possible improvements in worker welfare.
 
Women, particularly immigrant women, comprise the majority of the workforce in the garment industry. Adequate protection must be preserved to curtail potential abusive practices. Recently, the Garment Worker Center and the UCLA Labor Center surveyed workers in the Los Angeles garment industry. Their findings report conditions that echoed the voices of 116 years earlier; including poor ventilation, excessive heat and dust, locked doors, dirty and poorly maintained workplaces. To read the December 2016 survey results, click here and scroll down to 'Find out more and download the report here'.