Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire New York City Friday marked the 100th anniversary of one of its worst disasters: A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that killed 146 people, mostly young women. The city's unions used the day as a chance to voice their anger over recent union setbacks.
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Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

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Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

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New York City Friday marked the 100th anniversary of one of its worst disasters: A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that killed 146 people, mostly young women. The city's unions used the day as a chance to voice their anger over recent union setbacks.

N: NPR's Robert Smith reports that the city's unions used today to voice their anger over recent union setbacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

ROBERT SMITH: They marched with replicas of 100-year-old garments: the tailored shirtwaists that the young women were making up on the eighth floor of a building in Greenwich Village. Each shirt had a name.

U: I'm carrying Mary Lebenthall's shirtwaist.

U: Becky Rhines.

U: I'm carrying Sadie Nussbaum.

SMITH: Do you know anything about her?

U: No. Most of the girls, nothing was known about them. They were workers, and they were lost in the crowd, except for this fire.

SMITH: New York City has had lots of death and sadness over the last couple centuries. There have been other big fires. But Ryan Gillam says the Triangle shirtwaist is remembered because of what it stood for.

: Because it's not just about a fire. It was when there was a total breakdown between workers and managers, bosses. This fire exemplified all of that going wrong.

SMITH: As the procession reached the site of the fire, now a laboratory for NYU, the somber part was over. It turned into a full-on union rally - brightly colored hats, angry signs, plenty of sing-alongs.

U: (Singing) I'm sticking to the unions 'til the day I die.

SMITH: Sort of an odd choice of lyric for a memorial, but this wasn't about tone. The appalling safety conditions in the Triangle factory became a rallying cry for unions 100 years ago. And with unions under attack again, they're going back to what worked. Bruce Raynor of Workers United.

: We come together to remind ourselves why those workers were killed by the greed of their bosses, that those workers were fighting for their rights to have a union in that workplace.

SMITH: By the end of the rally, the anger at the greedy bosses of yore morphed easily into outrage at recent union setbacks in Wisconsin and New Jersey. Senator Chuck Schumer came awfully close to blaming Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for the fire.

: And to the families of the victims, we will not let right-wing ideologues and Scott Walker Republicans undo your loved ones' legacy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

U: Essie Bernstein(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

U: Jacob Felser(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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