Sunday, March 12, 2017

Remembering is Empowering: The 106th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

A Unionized Garment Shop by Ralph Fasanella.

O Girls Girls! Teenage immigrants
Tell me where did you go in the fire?
(Tessie! Caterina! Antonietta! Somebody tell me)
I jumped to the street
Where my bones and concrete meet.
The sewer my blood runs through.

                  Annie Lanzillotto (click)

The 106th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire will be remembered with a multi-genre program March 24 at New York Univerity's Casa Italiana. The address is 24 West 12th Street, New York City, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The program will include a performance by Vito Marcantonio Forum (VMF) founding member LuLu LoLo Pascale of an excerpt from her play, “Soliloquy for a Seamstress: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.”

The VMF recently affiliated with the coalition and other members will also participate in the event.

Costanzo Quatriglio's documentary, “Triangle,” will also be screened. It tells the story of a similar event that led to workplace deaths in present-day Italy.

Professor Mary Anne Trasciatti, chair, Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, will present an update on the effort to establish a permanent memorial.

Vito Marcantonio would have been nine years old in 1911 and, in all likelihood, painfully aware of the fire.

Although the inferno happened downtown, and Marcantonio's Little Italy was found uptown on the shores of the East River, the event sent shockwaves through immigrant communities.

In her 2010 essay, “Chalking Back Through Time” author Elissa Sampson proposed that, “This still salient loss took place in less than 20 minutes, 146 people died, overwhelmingly young women. Many jumped from the locked ninth floor after the elevator failed due to the weight of those escaping the eighth floor. The tenth floor mainly made it out to the roof.”
Marc's Congressional investigation. Her three sons died from silicosis.

The only compensation ever dispensed with was $75 to the families of 23 victims.

Among the tragedy's more enduring legacies, Sampson noted, “The Triangle Fire for Jews and Italians marked the entrenchment of labor politics since the sweatshops remained critical to their economic sustenance.”

Marcantonio's politics both supported and drew support from those newly emboldened unions; were forged in that environment. He was a kind of last line of defense in the battles that would ensue to liquidate that power: the anti-communist purges and passage of the Taft-Hartley Act.

His role as a spokesperson for workplace issues, and workplace safety in particular, extended well beyond his East Harlem bailiwick. A trip to West Virginia early in his congressional career spurred Marc to conduct a House investigation into the silicosis epidemic that was laying thousands low there.

Today, Sampson wrote of the Triangle fire, “[T]his tragic event is now seen again as pivotal in interpreting the city's labor, industrial and immigrant history and in having brought New Yorkers together to meet the most urgent social justice challenge of their times.”

The event is cosponsored by Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, Italian American Writers Association, Remember the Triangle Coalition and National Organization of Italian American Women.

The program, sponsors say, is intended to, “keep alive the memory of what happened in 1911 and of its significance for the history of the U.S. labor movement. Art also reminds contemporary audiences of the symbolic and political value of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in generating a discourse about workers' rights and dignity, and about illegal situations of the exploitation of labor in the U.S. and abroad.”