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March 26, 2003

Equity Shows Union Solidarity at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Landmark Tribute
Bruce Raynor and Paul V. Ames

UNITE President Bruce Raynor (left), and Equity Councillor Paul V. Ames

146 white carnations representing each of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

By Andrea Friedman

In the current climate of social, political and economic uncertainty that has many looking towards the future, Equity joined fellow unionists in remembering and honoring the past. On March 25, 2003, the Union of Needletraders, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) commemorated the 92nd anniversary of the 1911 industrial tragedy in which 146 garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, mostly young immigrant women, were killed in a fire due to poor and unregulated workplace safety conditions. This disaster was a catalyst for major labor reforms in New York City. A ceremony was hosted by UNITE President Bruce Raynor at the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory near Washington Square Park, where the building (currently a New York University classroom building) was designated a historical landmark.

Councillor Paul V. Ames held Equity's banner high amongst the crowd of hundreds of union workers, students and community members, as Mayor Mike Bloomberg unveiled a plaque from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission land marking the building on southwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. Mayor Bloomberg described the Triangle Fire as one of the worst industrial disasters in New York City's history, which was the result of low wages, overcrowding, long hours and poor safety conditions. The martyrdom of the women who perished seared the conscience of New Yorkers and lead to historic workplace reform efforts. He added that, "The land marking of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory site serves to remind us about one of our greatest assets: New York's ability to follow great tragedy with great progress, just as we did after September 11, 2001."

President Raynor presented an array of prominent New York City leaders, including Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, and former Mayor David Dinkins, who praised UNITE and the entire labor movement for its ongoing efforts to improve workers' health and safety on the job. The tribute concluded with the New York City Fire Department raising a truck ladder to the sixth floor of the building, which was as high as the ladders could reach in 1911, two floors short of rescuing the 146 women who either suffocated or leapt out of the windows to their deaths. The crowd observed a moment of silence as the names of those who perished in the fire were read aloud.

The Triangle Fire occurred just two years before the formation of Equity in 1913, and Equity was proud to stand in remembrance and solidarity with UNITE. Paul Ames remarked that, "The Triangle Fire was such a landmark in labor history. It makes you think about how much history we are surrounded by in New York City, and that Equity, too, is part of that history."

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