PAYING TRIBUTE: With workers’ rights and safety very much top-of-mind with many voters around the globe, 500 people are expected at Friday’s commemorative event for the 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The milestone is actually on March 25 but the event is being held in advance to try to attract more people.
In 1911, 146 factory workers — primarily young immigrant women — lost their lives during the blaze. This week’s gathering will bring together members of the New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO and Workers United, New York City public advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, representatives from the New York Fire Department and students. “It’s really a way of showing that workers have common struggles, and that there is a need for us to continue to stand together as a movement,” said the New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO’s director of communications Cara Noel.
Musical tributes, reflections from victims’ family members and remarks from workers who are still fighting for their rights will be shared with the crowd outside of what was once the Asch Building at Washington Square and Greene Street. The site is now known as New York University’s Brown Building. Many of the workers could not escape because the factory’s doors and stairwells were locked — a practice used to discourage work breaks and theft. All of the names of the victims who perished in the historic fire will be read at the sidewalk ceremony at 23-29 Washington Place. And firefighters from the same FDNY ladder company that responded to the blaze will ceremoniously raise a ladder to the building’s seventh floor, which was the height that firefighters could reach in 1911, even though the fire started on the building’s eighth floor.
This year’s commemoration will include remarks from a construction worker, and a farm worker — two industries that have experienced significant worker injuries and fatalities over the last few years, Noel said.
The first opera to focus on the incident and its aftermath, “The Triangle Fire,” will be performed tonight at an invitation-only show in Manhattan that will also feature a screening of some clips from an HBO film about the subject. Another performance of composer Leonard Lehrman’s opera is scheduled for Saturday at NYU.
The Triangle Shirtwaist fire commemorations have been held for the past 40 years, “to remember the past, to help in the present and to set the pace for the future,” Noel said. “It is also important to recognize the current worker fights in New York City including immigration justice, raising wages, the right to organize, income inequality and safe workplaces.”