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Triangle Fire Anniversary Today

March 25, 2011

NEW YORK - Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a tragedy which still holds much to be learned - and taught.

The fire raced through three floors of a Lower East Side sweatshop, claiming 146 victims - most of them young immigrant women - trapped by a locked door. Many were forced to jump to their deaths.

The fire spurred a host of government-enforced workplace protections and galvanized a growing labor movement. 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.

Dick Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, says the impact of the tragedy on safety regulations and workers' rights must be understood a century later.

"Not only New York schoolchildren, schoolchildren in general, but the public and, frankly, our electeds really need to understand not just what happened in the Triangle Factory Fire, but also why it happened."

Iannuzzi is taking part in a 40-hour fast which ends today as part of the centennial. The fast is organized by the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.

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."

Andi Sosin, co-author with Sosinsky and two others of the new book about the fire, says the events commemorating the disaster lean significantly toward the educational...

"What's the most important thing that has come out of this - and that we want our young people and everybody to take away - is that they have to be cognizant of taking care of their own safety. The only way to do that is through organizing."

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

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY