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Re-Revised Triangle

Essay by   •  March 25, 2011  •  1,800 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,129 Views

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The book, Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, written by David Von Drehle is set in New York City primarily in the tenements of the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village. The story provides a detailed account of life as an immigrant during the early 1900's, the garment workers strikes, the corrupt political structure of the time, several eye witness accounts of the blaze that killed 146, the missing safety procedures that could have saved them, the trial that attempted to bring the owners to justice. Then political change and work force standards came about as a result of the tragic event.

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The book begins by describing participants in a garment industry strike and how any form of challenge to the authority, the factory owners, would be handled. He describes the money driven political corruption that allowed the owners to thwart any upheaval by sending out the muscles of the not so underworld to beat the strikers, women included. One of these occasions, in September of 1909, included Miss Clara Lemlich. She was a fiery member of the socialist party and a garment worker. She personified the change in women of the day. Women who worked and supported a family, she represented the image of The Gibson Girl. After leaving a strike, she was targeted as a trouble maker and one of the criminals of the day was paid to beat her. This did however backfire as a bruised woman brought more people to the cause. On many occasions the protestors were arrested on trumped up charges to punish them for making waves. The police were also believed to be on the payroll. The main political team at the time was out of Tammany Hall.

The author also explained what brought many of the immigrants to the United States and the typical life they endured upon arrival. Immigration in America came in waves and during the era of late 1800s and early 1900s. Many were Russian Jews skilled at the trade of sewing. In Russia the trades that Jews were permitted to have were limited and one of these authorized trades was tailor. The surge of Russian Jew immigration was as a result of several anti-semitic activities occurring in Russia at the time. The current Czar created many rules that prevented Jews from being productive members of Russian society and there were also several pogroms during the period resulting in burned villages and deaths. Many of them lived in fear and were forced to leave in order to find freedom and safety in America.

The journey to America and the arrival were probably not what they had expected. They had referred to America as The Golden Land. The author describes in great detail the steward class journey and various routes that could have been taken. The unsanitary conditions and the fear women must have had sharing rooms with men as well as the humiliation of having the ship’s crew watch as they washed. When they finally reach the shores, he gave an account of the possible pitfalls in passing through customs at Ellis Island. When finally past Ellis Island, he describes the people who waited to take advantage of the Greenhorns, the new arrivals. After a Greenhorn made it past the people upon approach they would have to try to find work at the Pig Market. This market would have a fresh crop of immigrants every day. The massive flow of cheap labor as a result of immigration gave the factory owners little need to have concern for employees, all were easily replaced. The typical location for most immigrants was in the tenement houses of the lower east side. These houses were packed with people and poorly ventilated. In tenements that had an air shaft it was typically used by the residents as a garbage shoot. They had to be nailed shut to make the odor bearable. Most residents had homes full of people. They had many children and took in relatives from the old country or borders. They made use of every available space. Many of the fire escapes were boarded up to create a play area or a place to store things. Poor ventilation and overcrowding made the tenements a haven for disease.

The author described the tenements were not only for residence but also a place where many would work all night sewing garments. From this came the term, sweatshop.

After the development of garment manufacturing as an industry on a grand scale, it left the tenement homes and moved into the factory. The owners and employees carried over the same work ethic of squeezing as many people in as possible, working them until they collapsed and paying them little to nothing. One of these factories was the Triangle Waist company.

The Triangle Waist Company was a factory spawned by two Russian Jewish immigrants, Max Blanck and Issac Harris. They had survived the tenements of the late 1800s and found fortune in the latest women’s style, called the waist. They saw a way to make money from this trend by producing waists quickly from precut patterns and forming an assembly line production. The employees were expected to work very long hours for a small amount of pay. The working conditions there spawned a lengthy garment workers strike. Their demands were a 52 hour work week and better facilities. They had also asked for only union members to be employed but they could not get that demand matched. This strike brought many people from all walks of society to help and sympathize with the conditions the immigrant community endured. Unfortunately they had not asked for more fire safety measures. This business was extremely profitable for both of them and they were considered shirt making giants.

The author provided detailed information about the Triangle Waist factory, the Asch Building, on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place. This is the building that burned and took the life of 146 souls. The author described the personnel as about 60 percent East European Jew and the remainder Italian. He explained the processes within the factory, where everyone sat, the unsafe practices of the cutter, who would be the one ultimately responsible for the blaze, who was located on each individual floor and how

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