The Tragedy that Demanded Change in Labor Laws

By Javier Ortiz

In March 25, 1911, the employers from the triangle shirt waist factory locked-in their workers to prevent them from stealing. A fire destroyed the infrastructure, and some of the employees had no way to escape. So, they jumped out of the building to their deaths. As a result 146 people died. This was known as the triangle shirt waist factory fire of 1911. This event was not uncommon as many did not have any labor rights. The workers did not die in vain and they were not forgotten.

triangle shirtwaist factoryOne example of how the triangle shirt waist factory workers were not forgotten is that thousands protested to prevent similar worker deaths. According to Judy Greenwald, “more than 30 labor related laws written by New York (state) Factory Investigating Commission, which was established in response to the fire and has been credited with developing a new model for worker safety in U.S. mills and workshops, eventually were adopted by the State legislature” (Greenwald). The fact that 30 new labor-related laws were created shows the workers were not forgotten.

The protestors also commemorated the dead and were inspired so much that they united and organized for many years. According to Mestrich, “Activists and labor unions like International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)… were the forefront of this push for reforms. Honoring the memory of those who died is particularly important to me and their others at Amalgamated Bank, which is now majority-owned by Workers United, the successors to all major garment worker unions, including ILGWU” (Mestrich). Today, because of the triangle shirt waist factory fire, we have workers unions like ILGWU to defend workers from dirty employers.

Unfortunately the ILGWU no longer exists. According to Britannica Encyclopedia, “Union of needle trades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), North American trade union formed in 1995 by the merger of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union.” Though unions have many names their message and purpose remains the same as they continue to fight and defend the rights of all across America.

Perhaps not many remember the deaths of these 146 immigrant women, but their memory lives on as we now live in a country that protects its workers to prevent many more deaths like this. In the end, we use the example of the triangle shirtwaist factory fire so we may prevent more deaths like the women from the garment factory.


“1911 tragedy spurred laws to protect workers.” Business Insurance. March 3, 2011. <>

“Why the triangle shirt waist factory fire is important today.” Huffpost. March 25, 2014. < /5029158>

“Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE)” Britannica. November 14, 2014. <;

“102 YEARS AGO – TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE.” California Fire News. March 25, 2013. <;


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