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Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is a book written by David Von Drehle, it analyzes how the disastrous fire breakout took the lives of many in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in March 25, 1911 in New York. Approximately 500 women who included teenagers and young adults occupied the ten-story building where 146 people perished that day. Shockingly enough nearly all were Jewish immigrants who worked Monday through Saturday for nine and a half hours a day at a wage rate of $ 15 per week. And after the damage, people wanted to blame the incident on someone. This resulted to successive law suit where the Triangle Shirtwaist Company owners were tried for manslaughter in the court. They were however found not guilty of the crime, a move which triggered a lot of opposition from the workers. The workers accused them for poor working condition which caused the loss of many lives. This paper will seek to analyze the impact of fire to the American people and industries.
Most of the firms which continues to suppress the interests of their workers through low wages and poor working conditions, experiences difficulties in getting workers and in most cases they end up recruiting immigrant workers and in most cases women. This is because women are the vulnerable sex and are in most cases willing to work under those poor working conditions. This was the case with the Triangle Shirtwaist Company as majority of its workers were women. The book also shows how the female immigrants finally find themselves working under harsh conditions.
However, the book help us to understand the role of immigrant women in the establishment of labor unions in the U.S. Immediately after the 1911 industrial fire, they formed an International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union to fight for the workers’ rights. They organized workers strikes which aimed at demanding better working conditions in the textile industry (Von Drehle, 2004). Their efforts however defied the preconception of many labor leaders who followed conservative ideologies. They thought that it was practically impossible for the immigrant women to organize and establish a union. But the women’s solidarity and preparedness in the whole event left them amused and also transformed people’s perceptions towards the female gender. Other wealthy women joined the group and supported them financially, a move which strengthened the union even more. The core objectives of the union were to seek an improvement in wages and working conditions. However, their efforts were greatly opposed by many companies including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. But despite of this, the struggle encouraged the industrial workers to take action whenever they feel that their rights are being undermined. It also exposed such companies to the general public. The city passed fire, safety and building codes and they also established stiff penalties for non-compliance. And although the measure was established in New York, other cities also followed the suit.
The workers were able to point out that, although fire is unforeseeable, some precautions ought to be established in all firms just in case the incident arises. It was sad to note that majority of the workers who perished, lost their lives because managers had locked the stairwells and exit doors and could therefore not be used to escape (Von Drehle, 2004). But the continued fight for good working condition in sweater shops however transformed the New York labor laws. Because of them, the sate adopted policies to prevent hazards and other loss of life through unsanitary conditions, occupational diseases and fire. They also established the American Society of Safety Engineers who was supposed to overlook the construction designs to make sure that industrial buildings were safe.