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Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Remembered After 100 Years

By DNAinfo Staff on March 25, 2011 3:35pm  | Updated on March 25, 2011 3:34pm

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Exactly a century after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 people and left a nation shocked by appalling work conditions, politicians and labor leaders remembered the dead Friday.

Shirtwaists bearing the names of victims, mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women who had been crammed into the Asch Building workspace, fluttered above a crowd stretching along Greene Street from Washington Square Park to Broadway.

Outside several windows on the 8th floor of the old factory, now NYU's Brown Building, purple drapery marked the spots where some of the women jumped to their deaths to escape the flames.

"We are haunted by the many what ifs that could have saved their lives," said Sen. Charles Schumer, citing overcrowding on the factory floor, locked doors that prevented workers from fleeing and the lack of an organized union lobbying for their rights.

"It was a jarring drop kick to the American conscience."

Sparked by what historians believe was a discarded cigarette, the flames tore through the factory, fuelled by fabric and paper that littered the floor.

The only exit door not swallowed up by flames had been locked by management trying to stop workers stealing pieces of cloth.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted that some of the victims were as young as 14 and were paid just $2 a day. Many of his words were drowned out by boos from the union-dominated crowd.

While speakers highlighted the progress made on safety standards, child labor laws and collective bargaining, Schumer and many others also cited Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's battle against union organizers as evidence of a looming threat to those gains.

"Elected officials must ensure the government continues to protect the lives of working people," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee.

"May we never lose our sense of outrage at injustice around us."