A century ago, a fire burned through three floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, one of many garment sweatshops in New York City. Trapped inside, many workers – mostly young Jewish and Italian women – leapt out windows to their deaths; others were consumed by the flames. In total, 146 died. Once the smoke had cleared, it was clear that much of the loss of life was due to lax safety standards and hazardous working conditions: many were trapped in the flames by doors that the owners had locked shut.
Out of the ashes of the Triangle Fire, a fledgling labor movement gained new urgency. Across the country, organized labor fought for – and won – critical safety improvements, often in the face of organized opposition from businesses and politicians. Americans of all stripes rallied to the cause of worker rights, demanding improved conditions in factories and offices, recognizing that progress for our working men and women means progress for our nation.
This movement continues today. In state capitals, teachers and firefighters, police officers and public servants, are taking to the streets to defend their rights; to fight for a living wage and benefits that support their families. They are standing up for a central principle born out of the Triangle Fire: that anyone putting in a full day’s work deserves a decent paycheck, a safe workplace, and a seat at the bargaining table.
One hundred years after the Triangle Fire, we must stand with those still engaged in the battle for better conditions on the job and for an end to exploitation of our laborers. We must renew our commitment to the rights and safety of our workers. And we must ensure that the doors of opportunity are never locked for those willing to work hard, provide for their families, and contribute to our economy and prosperity.