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Triangle Fire Anniversary – The Tragedy that Sparked the Labor Movement

March 25, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine - As Gov. Paul LePage makes national news with his efforts to remove a mural depicting workers at the state Department of Labor, millions of people around the country will pause to remember the tragedy that galvanized the labor movement 100 years ago.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was responsible for the deaths of 146 workers, most of them immigrant women, in a New York City sweatshop. The workers lost their lives because a locked door trapped them; many were forced to jump to their deaths. The fire gave rise to a host of government-enforced workplace protections. Lessons were learned, but Joel Sosinsky, co-author of a new book about the tragedy, says not enough of those lessons are taught to today's students.

"You'd be surprised how few children today actually know anything about labor history in general and the Triangle fire in particular."

With that in mind, the fire's centennial is being observed with events across the country, as well as major commemorative programs at the site of the fire. Educators can find lesson plans and teaching materials among a huge list of resources provided on the website of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition.

Sosinsky says the labor movement that was bolstered in the wake of the Triangle tragedy faces new challenges today.

"It's 100 years later, and in some respects nothing has changed. And when you see what's going on in Wisconsin and other states that have similar initiatives to take away collective bargaining rights, it just breaks your heart."

Sosinsky's book, from Arcadia Publishing, is tied into a documentary titled "Triangle: Remembering the Fire," airing this month on HBO.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - ME