Scab mayor booed at union memorial... Union crowd boos NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Triangle Shirtwaist memorial

For the first time in memory, a large crowd gathered for a memorial to the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and tragedy booed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his union busting attacks on public education and public school unions. The booing, which was captured on video and audio, is available at the following URL for those who can't get the hotlink above:

Many of the 146 garment workers who died from the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of March 23, 1911 jumped from the 8th and 9th floors of the building to their deaths, choosing to die from the fall rather than be burned alive. They were unable to escape the fire because the factory owners had locked the doors during working hours because they did not allow the young women workers to use the washrooms, interrupting production.

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire was on March 25, 2011. The fire, which killed 146 workers in a sweat shop in lower Manhattan, has been the subject of a great deal of labor history and human rights discussion during recent weeks.

Here is one brief historical account of the event, which saw the garment workers trapped on the upper floors of the building, while fire ladders only reached to the sixth floor. Many of the victims jumped to their deaths.

"The Triangle Factory made shirtwaists— women’s blouses. It was located in New York City and employed mostly immigrant girls who worked six or seven days a week to take home a few dollars a week. The pay was supposedly higher, but workers were expected to pay for the needles, thread and sometimes even the electricity used to sew together the blouses. If a shirtwaist was torn or damaged during assembly, the worker was expected to pay full price for the garment, reducing take home pay even further. 'Work interruptions' were not tolerated by management, including unscheduled bathroom visits. Restrooms were outside, so the factory doors were locked during the workday to make sure workers stayed on the job.

One labor cartoon from the era showed the owners barring the doors from the factory while the workers burned to death on the other side of the door."Workers at garment factories across the country had gone out on strike in the years before the Triangle fire. Their demands were a 20% raise in pay and a 52 hour work week— conditions that were rejected unanimously as preposterous by factory owners. Police arrested striking workers, many of whom were jailed or sent to forced labor camps on charges of 'incitement.' Factory owners hired prostitutes and goons to beat striking workers. The strike was brutal and long-lasting. When it finally settled, many factories had made some concessions to newly formed unions, decreasing the work week slightly and making minor concessions on pay. The Triangle factory owners did not agree to demands, however, and strikers returned to work while they continued to negotiate.

"Fire broke out toward the end of the day on Saturday, March 23. It started on the lowest of the three floors occupied by the Triangle Factory, the eighth. A bookkeeper saw the fire immediately and called to the tenth floor to warn them, but here was no way to notify workers on the ninth floor. The fire spread quickly. There were two main exits- stairways to Greene Street and Washington Square, but the fire blocked the Green Street exit and the Washington exit was padlocked. There was a fire escape, but it was poorly made and pulled away from the building under the weight of the first few workers who attempted to use it. That left only the elevators, and only three carloads of workers were able to escape before the elevators failed.

"Workers fled to the roof or tried to climb out windows. One bystander painted a ghoulish picture of the scene: “I saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp. This went on for what seemed a ghastly eternity. Occasionally a girl who had hesitated too long was licked by pursuing flames and, screaming with clothing and hair ablaze, plunged like a living torch to the street. Life nets held by the firemen were torn by the impact of the falling bodies.”

"The fire department arrived quickly but only had ladders to reach the sixth floor. They could do little but hold back the gathering crowds to try to prevent bystanders from getting hit by falling bodies.

"One hundred and forty-six workers were killed and more than three quarters were women. Bodies were lined up in a makeshift morgue and relatives filed by attempting to identify the burned and mutilated remains, sometimes by recognizing dental work or a scrap of clothing. Charities ran fund drives to pay for burials and in some cases, to raise funds for families left with no support. The factory owners were tried for negligence but they were found not guilty as the jury doubted they knew the doors were locked when the fire broke out. A later civil suit did find them liable and they were ordered to pay approximately $75 per casualty in damages. Insurance had paid them about $400 per victim above the cost of physical losses, however, so they profited handsomely from the fire. The owners were later caught locking exits at a subsequent factory and fined $20..."

Despite the attempts by Bloomberg's expensive public relations staff to calm the crowd, the boos, along with shouts of "Scab!", grew as Bloomberg's attempted remarks continued.

As Bloomberg has moved to destroy more public schools in New York City and turn more public school property over to privately run (and expensively administered) charter schools, larger and larger crowds are turning out to oppose his operations and his appearances. Bloomberg's appointed schools chancellor, former magazine executive Cathie Black, is unable to conduct meetings in public except when tight security and a pre-selected audience greets her.

The ongoing privatization of New York public schools, like the attacks on public schools by Democratic and Republican officials from Florida to California, has been drawing larger and more vocal opposition this year than ever before. Officials of the U.S. Department of Education, under former Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan, continue to try and push the charter conversions and the teacher bashing closing of so-called "failing" schools in the face of growing opposition across the USA.

A growing number of union and public education activists now view the plutocracy's mayors, from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to New York's Bloomberg and Chicago's mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel as the same types of plutocrats as those who ruled things during the days of the Triangle tragedy. The same "free market" approaches to reality preached and practiced by today's mayors, along with the red baiting of unions and attacks on public sector workers, are almost as common today from the Daleys and Emanuels of the USA as they were 100 years ago, during the time of the last Robber Barons.


April 18, 2011 at 4:38 PM

By: Erwin Rehn

Destruction of Public Schools in New York

The perfect date for an all-out strike against the destruction of Public Schools will be May 10th 2011, the day of Sotheby's Sale of the Year, Contemporary Art (evening session) in New York at 1334 York Avenue.

Mr.Bloomberg's mistress, Ms.Diana Taylor, sits on the board of Sotheby's who will stage an unprecedented "ORGY OF THE RICH" on May 10th, whilst Public Schools are suffering!

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent by the filthy rich in just one short auction evening session....unless they are stopped by strikers!

Let us all deny the access of the plutocrats to the saleroom, so they will have to cancel their ORGY!

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