Over 112 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the historic tragedy that acted as a catalyst in the U.S. workers’ rights and safety protections, a coalition dedicated to honoring its victims unveiled a public memorial at the site of the fire.
After more than a decade of planning, the Remember the Triangle Fire Memorial Coalition got an opportunity to dedicate a steel ribbon installation on the building that housed the Triangle Factory — now an NYU facility in Greenwich Village.
Labor figures ranging from the U.S. Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to labor leaders from Workers United and SAG-AFTRA gathered surviving family members and hundreds of spectators to honor the 146 young workers killed in the 1911 factory fire.
The impressive showing of national labor leaders served to emphasize the connection between the events of the fire and the many ongoing labor struggles across the country. Su and others described the monument as a call to action in contemporary fights for workers’ rights — ranging from the right to organize unions to fair pay.
“In the wake of horror, our country has made many strides to protect workers rights, but we still have much work to do. Let’s not wait for the next tragedy to do what has been done,” said Su.
Though not fully completed, the memorial takes the form of an elevated stainless steel “ribbon” that wraps about two sides of the building that is inscribed with the names and ages of the 146 victims. The creators of the monument say the idea was for the names to appear in a reflective panel along the building’s facade “as if written in the sky.”
The installation’s second phase will extend the steel ribbon up the corner of the building to the 9th floor — a reminder of the many victims who jumped to their deaths rather than perish in the fire.
The memorial makes the vision of the family members of the deceased workers a reality, said Suzanne Pred Bass, a board member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. Pred Bass is the niece of two Triangle Shirtwaist Factory workers, one of whom died in the fire at 23 and the other who survived.
“It is gratifying for all the family members of those who died in this tragic fire to know that through the memorial this and future generations who will learn about the fire, and its significance in labor history,” she said.
Pred Bass said she takes heart in knowing that the memorial will inspire people and raise awareness of what is possible when we work together to better the lives of workers struggling for fair wages, decent benefits and safe working conditions.
The memorial underscores the status of the workers who died in the fire as young immigrant women by commemorating them using the languages that they spoke: English, Yiddish and Italian.
Gov. Kathy Hochul likened the plight of the workers to the influx of migrants to New York City over the past year.
“As we think of the people coming here in search of the American dream, the recently arriving migrants, I want to thank my labor team Roberta Reardon for finding them jobs,” Hochul said.