Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire…100 Years Later


I don’t remember when it was that I first found out about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. I know for sure it was in the last several months. It was news to me that something so terrible could have happened and yet I’m not surprised.  It sickens me to think that the lives of those who were lost in this struggle for workers’ rights will be forgotten. It seems a cruel way to honor their memory as we dismantle so much of what got all of us to where we are.

There are days lately where I wonder if perhaps the last 100 years or so was nothing more than a short reprieve from business as usual, but perhaps this was always what those in power envisioned happening – that union organizing and collective bargaining would be temporary. If they were patient enough they could return the balance of power back into their hands. In Maine they’re going to paint over a mural of labor history. In Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio they’re working to eliminate collective bargaining rights. In Michigan and Wisconsin they’re shifting power away from townships, municipalities, and cities to the state. In Missouri they’re talking about effectively eliminating child labor laws (the bill is “dead” now, but for how long?). What will be left?

I listen to the few who rally against these sorts of measures and the common theme in essence seems to be “Why should I care about you?” And I wonder if we’ve lost the ability to understand where another has come from.  Is there really no empathy left in our world?

For more on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, I highly recommend the American Experience piece.

For more on how the spirit of 1911 might apply today:


2 thoughts on “The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire…100 Years Later

  1. I thought his commentary on how this is all still going on was chilling. Hardly know which way to turn these days. At least in Wisconsin, I think we’re all waking up and realizing that there is no one to help us or do it for us. We have to make it happen ourselves.

    • Yeah, that part really does continue to bother me. Lately I’m feeling a bit raw on all of it. I’ve struggled with this over the last few years. I can only get so involved before it begins to seem completely insurmountable and overwhelming…usually followed by a period of serious media fasting as I just can’t take another moment of it.

      It dawned on me the other day that the “progress” made in the 100 years since the Triangle Fire has been an illusion at best. It isn’t like companies somehow became benevolent and responsible parties…it’s just that they found somewhere else to go and do the things that workers in the US (at least for a time) simply would not tolerate.

      This alone, of course, is shameful, but the ways in which this sort of irresponsible behavior is twisted around for political game is what makes my stomach turn the most…let alone the way some people of faith in our country not only accept it, but promulgate it in “moral” terms.