This week marked the 103rd anniversary of one of the worst workplace disasters in our country’s history. On March 25, 1911, a fire spread through the cramped floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. When the workers—mostly young female immigrants—tried to escape, they encountered locked doors and broken fire escapes. Rather than be burned alive, the workers began jumping out of windows and fell to their deaths on the street below as bystanders watched in horror.
The anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire coincides with the approaching anniversary of another workplace disaster that took place halfway around the world. Last April, our sisters and brothers who worked at the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh were told to report to work in a building that had severe structural cracks and over 1,100 workers lost their lives when the factory collapsed.
While decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions, too many workers here in the U.S. and around the world continue to be killed on the job, or suffer from injuries, sickness or diseases in their places of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4,000 workers in the U.S. lost their lives on the job in 2012 alone.
Workers everywhere deserve a safe place to work, and those corporations that exploit workers for profit and put them in danger must be held accountable. As we observe the anniversaries of these two workplace disasters, the Retail Justice Alliance takes to heart the words of activist Mother Jones to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” by reaffirming our dedication to supporting workers here in the U.S. and around the world who are struggling to protect their basic rights – including safe jobs, workplace fairness and collective bargaining.