The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent immigrant Jewish women aged sixteen to twenty-three.
The disaster gave rise to the cry "who will look out for the working girls"? One positive result of the fire -- the American Society of Safety Engineers was founded in New York City on October 14, 1911.
Now, in March 2011, 100 years after the fire, we hear a new cry emerging – "Who will look after the workers?" This is in response to the effort in many states to strip workers of the collective bargaining rights they have worked for so many decades to secure. In Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and several other states, legislatures under the thinly veiled guise of reducing spending, are trying to enact laws which prevent workers from having any voice in negotiating the conditions under which they work, undoing more than a century of gains in the areas of worker safety, fairness and dignity.
Massive protests of middle class workers – teachers, nurses, firefighters, police, road crew workers, and others who are losing their voices in the workplace - are converging on state capitols to have their voices heard. These people are the last vestige of the American middle class.
My mother worked for decades in a textile factory, hunched over a machine, for low wages, in a job that wracked her body and often had her wearing a sling on her arm. When the workers finally were able to join the ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers' Union), things improved dramatically. I worked there myself for a summer and saw firsthand what was meant by the often-used term "sweatshop".
Inspired by the protesting workers in Wisconsin, which was ground zero for this renewed labor movement, I posted the music video of my song "I Am Erica".