Remembering the Ashes of 1911 and Today

In the video above by CUNY Graduate School of Journalism student Áine Pennello, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, speaks at the commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire about the dangerous working conditions that persist today – whether in Bangladesh, New York or elsewhere.

Every year, union groups and community organizations observe the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in Greenwich Village that took the lives of 146 mostly-immigrant workers on March 25, 1911. Over a century has passed but some say that little has improved, especially when it comes to the working environment of immigrants.

“It’s over 100 years. Why hasn’t this changed?” asked Ed Vargas, one of the directors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Memorial, which organized the Triangle Fire commemoration event on Tuesday, March 25.

“There’s an erosion of workplace rules as opposed to an enhancement,” said Vargas, citing unsafe working conditions at mines and construction sites throughout the United States and abroad. Vargas also noted that most of the workers subjected to these conditions are recently arrived immigrants, much like the Italian and Jewish victims who lost their lives in the 1911 Triangle Fire.

“It’s all of our problem,” he said, noting how some American companies say they don’t feel responsible for helping to raise working standards abroad.

“Until it all changes, we’ll be out there every year.”

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