Monday, February 21, 2011

100 years ago

In the "good old days" when business reigned supreme and unions were struggling to make a better life for their members, there was a fire. 146 people died in that fire because profit was king and safety was an unnecessary expense.
In the Cemetery of the Evergreens on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, there is a haunting stone monument to the garment workers who died in the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 but were never identified. It contains the bas-relief figure of a kneeling woman, her head bowed, seemingly mourning not only the deaths, but also the fact that those buried below were so badly charred that relatives could not recognize them.

Almost a century after the fire, the five women and one man, all buried in coffins under the Evergreens monument, remained unknown to the public at large, though relatives and descendants knew that a loved one had never returned from the burning blouse factory.

Now those six have been identified, largely through the persistence of a researcher, Michael Hirsch, who became obsessed with learning all he could about the victims after he discovered that one of those killed, Lizzie Adler, a 24-year-old greenhorn from Romania, had lived on his block in the East Village.

And so, for the first time, at the centennial commemoration of the fire on March 25 outside the building in Greenwich Village where the Triangle Waist Company occupied the eighth, ninth and 10th floors, the names of all 146 dead will finally be read.
And now, 100 years later, unions are fighting for their lives because people don't believe they are needed. Because people don't believe that the Koch Brothers could look at 146 dead employees in this day and age and just see another cost of business.

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