Thursday, March 10, 2011

Portraits of Sweatshop Workers

A worker at a hat factory
The talented photographer Louie Correia will be taking individual portraits of each of our 146 walkers. Here are some portraits of sweatshop workers for inspiration.

Despite, their long hours and arduous conditions, the workers, in particular the women took particular care with their appearance. One survivor of the fire, remembers running back to get her fur muff that she had saved up for and left in the dressing room. She missed the last elevator down and with the muff on her hand, held the cable and jumped down the elevator shaft where she was saved. The muff protected her hands from being burned off from the heat of the cable and she survived.

Many others were not so lucky. Several workers died in the elevator shaft. The fire only raged for a few minutes and the difference between life and death was a brief unthinking decision. It was the end of an eight hour Saturday shift. People were already getting ready to leave when the fire broke out and in fact some of the workers did not realize the building was on fire until they were out on the street. One young man bounded down the stairs to wait for his sister outside. She was engaged to be married and wanted to fix herself up before she went to meet her fiance. By the time her brother realized what was going on, the firemen wouldn't let him back in the building to try and save his sister. She never made it out alive. Another young man went downstairs to wait for his father. His father, also never made it out. Entire families were lost that day. Catherine Maltese, age 39 and her two daughters, Lucia age 20 and Rosaria, age 14 all perished in the fire. Rose Freedman, pictured at left, was the last living survivor of the fire. She died in Februrary 2001 at the age of 102. She was 17 when she worked at the Triangle Factory. When the fire broke out, she thought of the bosses on the tenth floor and ran upstairs where a policeman helped her over a neighboring roof and to safety.
It was no accident that the fire took place at The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory which was one of the only non union shirtwaist shops left. A few years earlier in 1909, there had been a major shirtwaist strike which included The Triangle Factory. While the owners eventually agreed to higher pay and fewer hours, they refused to unionize or allow the workers a say in how the factory was run. Some of the reforms that strikers had been campaigning for included greater safety regulations, better fire escapes and unlocked doors. Since the strike, the factory doors were more likely than ever to be locked so that the workers couldn't leave without permission. The owners of The Triangle escaped judgment in court because no one could prove they knew the doors were locked. It was just a technicality, however. Lawyers for the defense even tried to bribe survivors to say the doors were open. What's more Harris and Blanck were cited for safety violations at another factory several years later, including locking doors.

1 comment:

  1. That's a nicely written story with some interesting anecdotes about the fire. Good job.