This Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company tragedy. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the New York City garment factory. Even after 146 workers died, many of them young women who jumped to their deaths in an attempt to escape the engulfing flames, industry bristled at the thought of implementing commonsense fire safety precautions.
They called sprinklers “cumbersome and costly.” They warned that the new laws would drive “manufacturers out of the city and state of New York.”
When sanitation certificates were proposed for bakeries, the president of the New York Flour Club said, “Such [sanitary] certificates will give a possible opportunity for an unfair person to make demands for graft on the small baker … [They] would have the effect of gradually reducing rather than increasing the number of small bakeries.”
Today, an assault on regulations that protect our health and safety, ensure a living wage and protect us from dangerous products is currently under way in Washington. Daily, Public Citizen pushes back against corporations seeking to roll back safeguards and block news ones, and fights for commonsense measures to protect against future tragedies.
Not surprisingly, corporations from BP to AIG to Massey Energy have similar reactions to the word “regulation.” But their cries about safeguards costing too much are flat wrong.
When we think of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, it’s easy to picture it as an archaic snapshot of an era long gone. The suffering of that day is surely not the kind of suffering a sophisticated democratic nation like the United States would allow for, right? We like to think tragedies like this couldn’t happen here and we relish our cable news minute-to-minute updates on the Chilean miners. Yet today, the bodies of 45 miners trapped after a mine collapse in Pakistan were found. Preventable accidents are not just the stuff of other less developed nations though.
Public Citizen says,
Massey Energy is the Triangle Shirtwaist Company of today, similarly warning that the sky will fall if we institute safety rules for coal mining. If today’s House Republicans were alive in 1911, they would have called sprinklers “job killers.”
Soon, we will be marking the one-year anniversary of the Massey Energy mine disaster in West Virginia that left 29 miners dead. Accidents like these, alongside the BP Deep Water Horizon explosion and oil spill and the nuclear disaster in Japan, should be a reminder that we need public protections.