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Reflection of Triangle Fire – Essay Sample

Reflection of Triangle Fire – Essay Sample

In 1911, the labor union movement was in its infancy. Though organized protests and strikes had occurred, many factory workers still labored in substandard conditions for a meager pay. The infamous Triangle Fire that occurred on March 25th, 1911 in New York City, would bring the issue of workers rights into the mainstream consciousness of not just Americans but factory workers worldwide. On that tragic day, 146 young immigrant workers lost their lives due to the extreme negligence and greed of the shop owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. When the fire began, workers tried to flee. However, to their extreme dismay, they found that the only exit out of the building consisted of a set of locked doors. There was no fire escape, no fire extinguishers, and no one around to assist the frightened workers. When the fire broke out, there was no way to notify the workers of the fire, and most only discovered it when it was too late to escape. Those that were trapped in the factory, unable to escape, had to choose to either leap from the 9th floor to the streets below or risk burning to death (Cornell, 2011, p.3). The tragedy that occurred that day could easily been prevented if safety precautions had been in effect. Instead, a tragedy of Triangle Fire occurred due to a lack of concern for the poor and hard-working factory workers of America.

Those that died that day have been called martyrs, victims of a tragedy caused by industrial greed (Cornell, 2011, p.1). Though Triangle Fire did result in a new awareness of factory workers safety, leading to tougher industry regulations and oversight, it did not result in the elimination of sweatshops from American soil.

“Recent studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor found that 67% of Los Angeles garment factories and 63% of New York garment factories violate minimum wage and overtime laws. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angeles garment factories have workplace health and safety problems serious enough to lead to severe injuries or death” (Cornell, 2011, p.2) This is a sad and shocking situation for American workers to be in, 100 years after the Triangle Fire brought to the forefront the issue of worker safety in the U.S.

The field of social work was sure to have been heavily influenced by Triangle Fire, and other similarly tragic events. A desperate need for oversight of employee working conditions was needed, a role that could be aided by individual social workers being assigned to individual laborers. Social workers could witness first hand the conditions of the workers, their mental and physical health, and whether or not their rights were being violated by the companies they worked for. The blasé attitude of the courts towards the owners of the Max Blanck and Isaac Harris (Cornell, 2011, p. 6), the sweat shop owners who were responsible for the deaths that day, showed that it would not be simple government regulators that would stop sweatshops from operating. What was needed was employee empowerment, something that could only be accomplished with organizations whose primary duty was to the people they served.

The decision to pursue a career in social work is, for me, a direct response to incidents such as the Triangle Fire. Many of those who work in factories as laborers are poor, undereducated and from a lower socio-economic background. Many are recent immigrants and speak English as a second language. They are at a disadvantage because often times they are not aware of or do not understand their rights as American workers. Social workers have the unique ability to make a huge impact on worker’s rights by working with the individuals directly and helping them to understand that they have rights and do not deserve to labor under such squalid and dangerous conditions. At best social workers can help to change the conditions of American factories, though this goal is a lofty one indeed. At the very least, however, social workers can help a single worker, a single family, to find their power and discover that there are other opportunities for them and that laboring in a sweatshop is not their only option. With hard work and dedication, social workers can prevent these factory worker tragedies from occurring by helping one worker at a time.

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