Mine Disasters, Oil Rig Explosions: 100 Years After Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Risk to Workers Climbs

As fire engulfed the factory floor, the seamstresses and workers of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan threw themselves out of the 9th-floor windows, diving to their deaths. The stairwell doors had been locked by the factory boss, who said he feared the workers would steal from the company.

The bodies of women and girls, many of them teenagers, lay crumpled on the sidewalk, drawing gawkers and photographers -- and Frances Perkins, a consumers' advocate whose activism for workers' rights in the wake of the fire would pave her path to become the nation's first woman secretary of labor (and first woman cabinet officer), appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt.

In "Triangle's Echoes" (video below), a documentary short by Harry Hanbury, we learn that today, at the centennial anniversary of the fire,  industrial, agricultural and even retail workers once face horrible risks. Think Deepwater Horizon and the Upper Big Branch mine.

Those we know about because national news outlets focused on them. But every day, children toil in the crop fields of America, handling machetes and breathing in dangerous chemicals. Existing regulations are often not enforced, whether in the industrial, agriculture or financial sectors, because of the influence of big global capitalists, such as the Koch brothers, on our politics. As Hanbury's film points out, the penalty for an employer whose practices kills a worker is a mere $7,000.

"Triangle's Echoes," made with support from the National Consumers League, features interviews with advocates and labor and government officials who lay out a convincing case that a renewed push for the enforcement of workplace safety practices and injunctions against child labor is greatly needed.

Correction: An earlier version of this post omitted the word 'woman' in the description of Perkins' groundbreaking appointment as secretary of labor. She was not the nation's first secretary of labor, rather the nation's first woman secretary of labor -- and its first woman cabinet officer.

Triangle's Echoes: The Unfinished Struggle for Worker Protection, Safety and Health

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at March 24, 2011, 3:40am

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