Die Arbeitsbedingungen vor dem Brand
Am 25. März 1911 brach in der Bekleidungsfabrik "Triangle" in New York, die vor allem Blusen herstellte, ein Feuer aus, dem 146 von 500 dort beschäftigten Einwandererinnen zum Opfer fielen. Die Zustände, die die nachfolgende Untersuchung zu Tage brachte, fanden breite Aufmerksamkeit, wodurch die Katastrophe zu einem wichtigen Ereignis in der Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, der Frauenbewegung und der US-Rechtsgeschichte wurde. Aus Anlaß des Internationalen Frauentags möchte ich vorstellen, welche Informationen das Netz dazu bietet.
MAX BLANCK und ISAAC HARRIS hatten die Triangle Shirtwaist Company an der Ecke Washington Place / Greene Street in New York City 1901 eröffnet. Sie nutzten die obersten drei Stockwerke (8-10), um mit Hilfe des Sonnenlichts Gas und Elektrizität zu sparen und billiger zu produzieren.
The factory was all wood: wood floors, wood walls, wood ceilings, wood desks. Employees worked 59-hour week under close supervision. Eleven hour work days were commonplace, and employees frequently worked thirteen hour shifts. No overtime pay was rewarded, as Triangle worker Pauline Newman recalls, "No overtime pay, not even supper money. There was a bakery in the garment center that produced little apple pies the size of this ashtray and that is what we got for our overtime instead of our money."
Toilets were located outside the factory and employees only had a few minutes to use them. A heavy steel door leading to the hall and stairwell was kept locked. Employees had to pay for thread and electricity, for the chairs or boxes they sat on to work and the use of coat lockers. The factory looked like a modern-day day care center, with many girls under eight years of age employed.
Niedrige Löhne, lange Arbeitszeiten, schlechte sanitäre Verhältnisse und das Verbot gewerkschaftlicher Betätigung waren kennzeichnend für die "sweatshops" der Lower East Side in New York City.
What is a Sweatshop? A sweatshop is more than just a metaphor for a lousy job. Although there is no clear, single definition of the term, it generally refers to a workplace where relatively unskilled employees work long hours for substandard pay in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. The term ?sweatshop? was first used in the late 19th century to describe aspects of the tailoring trade, but sweatshop conditions exist in other industries as well.
1820-1880: The Seamstress Impoverished
Seamstresses were familiar figures in early 19th-century American cities, filling the needs of an expanding garment industry. Working at home, they stitched bundles of pre-cut fabric into clothing worn by Southern slaves, Western miners, and New England gentlemen. Dressmakers were responsible for producing an entire garment and could earn a decent wage. Seamstresses, however, were poorly compensated for work that was both physically demanding and unpredictable. Paid by the piece, seamstresses worked 16 hours a day during the busiest seasons, but their income rarely exceeding bare subsistence. Making matters worse was, shop owners were notorious for finding fault with the finished garments and withholding payment. Consequently, seamstresses often relied on charity for their own and their families' survival.
1880-1940: Tenement Sweatshops
In many cities, recent immigrants converted small apartments into contract shops that doubled as living quarters. Fierce competition among contractors for work and immigrants* desperate need for employment kept wages down and hours up. As miserable as this work was, it provided many new arrivals a transition into American society and a more prosperous future for themselves and their families. Some immigrants began working in small shops, eventually owning large clothing firms. Others succumbed to disease, malnutrition, and exhaustion, and never found the path from tenement sweatshop to a better life.
Die Ausstellung ist nicht nur in der oben zitierten Zusammenfassung online, sondern bei americanhistory auch mit Abbildungen der Vitrinen (allein 9 für die Periode von 1880 bis 1940, bei denen auch einzelne Objekte detailliert dargestellt werden können, rechts zwei Beispiele.
Hilton, Hughes and Co.,
Streik der 1900 gegründeten "International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU)" 1909, der "Aufstand der 20000", vier Fünftel von ihnen Frauen
Ihre Forderungen nach offenen Türen zur Straße und besserem Feuerschutz wurden nicht erfüllt..
Die "School of industrial and labor relations" der Cornell-Universität hat ein umfangreiches Projekt über das Feuer bei Triangle online. Dort fandich nicht nur den obigen Text, sondern noch weitere Informationen, z.B. daßin Triangle Shirtwaist Factory schon 1909 400 Beschäftigte spontan die Arbeit niedergelegt hatten. Triangle sperrte die Streikenden aus und suchte in Anzeigen neue Beschäftigte. (vgl.HADLEY DAVIS: Reform and the Triangle shirtwaist company fire)
PAULINE S. NEWMAN erlebte als junge Einwanderin aus Litauen die Fabrikarbeit:
The day's work was supposed to end at six in the afternoon. But, during most of the year we youngsters worked overtime until 9 p.m. every night except Fridays and Saturdays. No, we did not get additional pay for overtime. At this point it is worth recording the generocity (sic) of the Triangle Waist Co. by giving us a piece of apple pie for supper instead of additional pay! Working men and women of today who receive time and one half and at times double time for overtime will find it difficult to understand and to believe that the workers of those days were evidently willing to accept such conditions of labor without protest. However, the answer is quite simple ? we were not organized and we knew that individual protest amounted to the loss of one's job. No one in those days could afford the luxory (sic) of changing jobs ? there was no unemployment insurance, there was nothing better than to look for another job which will not be better than the one we had. Therefore, we were, due to our ignorance and poverty, helpless against the power of the exploiters.
Auch heute gibt es möglicherweise noch ähnliche Arbeitsverhältnisse. 1995 wurden in Kalifornien 72 thailändische ArbeiterInnen aus haftähnlichen im Appartementkomplex El Monte befreit, die für 70 cent/Stunde 140 Stunden in der Woche arbeiten mußten. Daran erinnert Sweatshops im America: From the jungle to El Monte.
Daß zu den schlechten Arbeitsbedingungen auch fehlender Feuerschutz gehörte, war bekannt. JASON LANG zitiert aus einer Anhörung fünf Monate vor dem Brand:
"Judge M. LINN BRUCE (counsel): How high can you success fully combat a Fire?
EDWARD F. CROKER (Chief, NYC Fire Dept.): Not over eight-five feet
BRUCE: About how many stories of a building is that?
CROKER: About seven.
BRUCE: Is this a serious danger?
CROKER: …in the buildings they call workshops, you still find it very interesting to see the number of people in one of these buildings with absolutely not one fire protection, without any means of escape in case of a fire."
-Before NYC Assembly, 12/10/10
P.J. MCKEON, an expert and lecturer on fire prevention at Columbia University was commissioned to make an inspection of the shop. He was concerned with the overcrowding on the top three floors of the building, the locking of the door to the stairway and the fact that there had never been a fire drill held. He wrote to Triangle but his letter went unanswered.
WILLIAM GUNN SHEPHERD, Reporter der "New York World" konnte zufällig als Augenzeuge von einer nahen Telefonzelle ständig der Redaktion berichten, was sich ereignete. Der Bericht enthält aber viele Wörter, die ich noch nie gesehen habe, weshalb er Leuten mit geringen Englischkenntnissen unverständlich bleibt (die Babel Fish-Übersetzung ist ein Witz).
At 4:35 o?clock yesterday afternoon, fire, springing from a source that may never be positively identified, was discovered in the rear of the eighth floor of the ten-story building at the northwest corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, the first of three floors occupied as a factory by the Triangle Waist Company. At two o?clock this morning Chief CROKER estimated the total dead as 154. More than a third of those who lost their lives did so in jumping from windows. The firemen who answered the first of the four alarms turned in found thirty bodies on the pavements of Washington Place and Greene Street.
... The fire began in the eighth story. The flames licked and shot their way up through the other two stories. All three floors were occupied by the Triangle Waist Company. The estimate of the number of employees at work is made by Chief CROKER at about 1,000. The proprietors of the company say 700 men and girls were in their place. Before smoke or flame gave signs from the windows, the loss of life was fully under way. The first signs that persons in the street knew that these three top stories had turned into red furnaces in which human creatures were being caught and incinerated was when screaming men and women and boys and girls crowded out on the many window ledges and threw themselves into the streets far below. They jumped with their clothing ablaze. The hair of some of the girls streamed up aflame as they leaped. Thud after thud sounded on the pavements. It is a ghastly fact that on both the Greene Street and Washington Place sides of the building there grew mounds of the dead and dying. And the worst horror of all was that in this heap of the dead now and then there stirred a limb or sounded a moan.
... It was a fireproof building in which this enormous tragedy occurred. Save for the three stories of blackened windows at the top, you would scarcely have been able to tell where the fire had happened. The walls stood firmly. A thin tongue of flame now and then licked around a window sash...
Source: New York World, 26 March 1911. Reprinted in ALLON SCHOENER, Portal to America: The Lower East Side, 1870-1925 (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1967), 171-172.
Der "Jewish Daily Forward" berichtete am Tag nach dem Feuer, daß viele sich noch mit dem Aufzug retten konnten (was Hinweise, diesen im Brandfall nicht zu benutzen, fragwürdig macht):
And when there was already a mountain of dead bodies, the first fire engine showed up. Helplessly, the firemen began battling the fire. Their ladders only reached to the 7th story. The firemen stood at a loss, and watched as one woman after another fell from above like shot birds, from the burning floors.
... The flames very quickly engulfed the stairs and filled the elevator shafts. One elevator fell down with a crash. The other three elevators were twice able to travel up, and carry down about a hundred girls. Fearfully, they risked using the elevator a third time. The hundred girls cried and waited, and instead of seeing the elevator, they saw the flames coming closer and closer. They realized that no help could reach them there, and they set out for the roof, the fire escapes and the windows.
And then there was a terrible crash. The 7th floor had fallen in. Dozens of girls who were standing near the elevator shaft were flung into the sea of flames that raged in there. Later, their bodies were found one atop another in a big heap.
It was an hour before the firemen could get into the burning area, and by then everything was over. The sidewalks were covered with the dead and wounded. No one could be seen at the windows. The unfortunate girls who had been waiting in that area lay everywhere, burnt or suffocated by smoke and fire.
Source: The Jewish Daily Forward, 26 March 1911. Translated into English by TINA LUNSON.
An anderer Stelle wird sogar behauptet, der Aufzug sei erst bei der zehnten Fahrt ausgefallen:
Amazingly, some people escaped. A few workers, like one of the owners of the factory, got to the roof where they were rescued. Over thirty workers at a time would pile into an elevator made for fifteen. The brave elevator attendant made nine successful rescue trips, before the fire would spread to the elevator shaft on the tenth trip down, killing him and thirty-six would be survivors.
Auch die New York Times berichtete ausführlich auf Seite 1: 141 Men and Girls Die in Waist Factory Fire; Trapped High Up in Washington Place Building; Street Strewn with Bodies; Piles of Dead Inside
Neun Tage vor dem Brand hatte eine Zeitung vor den Feuergefahren in der Bekleidungsindustrie gewarnt. Ausgelöst wurde das Feuer vermutlich durch eine Zigarre oder Zigarette. Ich bin zwar immer dafür, gegen RaucherInnen hart vorzugehen, wie etwa ausgerechnet von Berlusconis Regierung, halte aber die privaten Schußwaffen in den USA für viel gefährlicher. Das darf aber nicht dazu führen, den Brandschutz zu vernachlässigen, wie es in New York geschehen ist.
The Building had only one exterior fire escape and no sprinklers. On the day of the fire one of the two freight elevators was out of service. And to prevent what some supervisions thought was an increasing amount of pilferage, they had locked the exit doors.
The cause of the fire has never been established, but it is suspected that an ash from a garment cutter?s cigar or cigarette started a small fire in a scrap bin on the eighth floor. As small fires will do, however, this one quickly grew in intensity as it ignited paper patterns and finished garments suspended over worktables. Some of the men tried to douse the flames using buckets of water, but without success. When the fire reached cans of machine oil at about the same time that the sold elevator door opened and introduced fresh air into the room, an explosion rocked the premises.Panic reigned.
Dozens of women stepped out onto the fire escape, believing it to be their path to safety. Unfortunately, the fire escapes drop ladder to the street had never been installed. The women soon bunched up, with the result that their combined weight forced the fire escape to tear away from the building and pitch the terrified women onto the concrete below. Others tried to escape by running to a stairway at the west end of the loft, only to have the crush of their bodies wedge the door shut. Exit doors in this building opened inward rather that outward. Three cutters desperately formed a human bridge from an eighth floor window to a window in an adjacent building. A few women were actually able to cross over by crawling across the cutters? backs before the man could no longer hold on and fell to their deaths.
Die Fabrikbesitzer wurde zwar vor Gericht gestellt, kamen aber gegen die Volksstimmung mit einem milden Urteil davon. Daß die Ausbeutung von EinwandererInnen nicht arm macht, zeigt ihr Versuch, mit einer Anzeigenkampagne für 1 Mio. $ ihre Unschuld zu beweisen, die aber von den Zeitungen abgelehnt wurde. JASON LANG beschreibt die juristisch zu klärenden Fragen:
To convict these two men, the jury would have to determine if HARRIS and BLANCK knew the door was locked at the specific time, as well as conclude that the deaths would not have happened had the doors remained unlocked. The trial lasted three weeks and 133 witnesses were called. Every day HARRIS and BLANCK would be confronted by mobs of angry citizens, mostly families of deceased workers.
The defense mainly said that the deaths were due to the failure of the workers on the ninth floor to turn to the Greene Street exit, which they claimed was unlocked at the time. They argued that acting in panic, the workers went to the wrong door, which was always locked, and had they acted in a calm manner, they would have lived.
The prosecution stated that door was also locked, so escape down this staircase was impossible. They blamed the two owners for the deaths of 146 workers.
Mainly, the defense relied on the testimony of survivor MAY LEVANTINI who stated the victims at that door died because the fire was in that staircase, not because the door was locked.
In the end the jury found them not guilty. According to juror Victor Steinman: "I believed that the door was locked at the time of the fire. But we couldn’t find them guilty unless we believed they knew the door was locked. It would have been much easier for me if the state inspectors had been on trial. There would have been no doubt in my mind how to vote."
The people were angered at the verdict. Both the jurors and the defendants had to be smuggled out of the courtroom under police care.
1914 mußten die Fabrikbesitzer aber an 23 Familien je 75 $ Entschädigung zahlen.
Die Triangle Waist Company war sicher nicht die einzige gefährliche Fabrik, andere waren womöglich noch gefährlicher. Immerhin sah das Gebäude hinterher noch recht gut aus. Die New York Times zählte 14 Fabriken ohne Fluchtmöglichkeiten auf und erwähnte, daß 99% der untersuchten Fabriken in New York ernste Sicherheitsmängel aufwiesen. Aber dazu mußte es erst einmal zu Untersuchungen kommen.
At the public funeral for the Triangle victims, the garment workers marched under one banner: "We demand fire protection." This time they would be heard: numerous citizens ranging from businessmen to suffragists, from priests to East Side workers, met and spoke in the weeks and months following the conflagration. Through these people the conscience of the city emerged. They aired a sense of public guilt and genuine concern over conditions in factories, conditions which they realized no one had previously taken enough responsibility for.
The committee on public affairs, insurance and fire regulations of the New York Board of Trade, the Merchants' Association, the Public Safety Committee of the Federation of Women's Clubs, the Chamber of Commerce of New York, the Collegiate Equal Suffrage League, the Executive Committee of the Architectural League, the Board of Directors of the United Cloak, Suit and Skirt Manufacturers of New York, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and the employer's welfare section of the National Civic Federation, all immediately held special meetings in the week following the fire, meetings in which a shared responsibility for the catastrophe was expressed. C.W. PHILLIPS, assemblyman at the National Civic Federation's Meeting, remorsefully stated that New York State, although an industrial state with thousands of factories, "has 75 game protectors in its Department of Game, but only 50 human protectors in its Department of Labor."...
The consensus amongst the people of New York was that this responsibility did have to be assumed by all, that there had been enough talk. The worker needed to be protected, and a course of action needed to be decided upon. ANNE MORGAN (J.P. MORGAN's niece) rented out the Metropolitan Opera House, on behalf of the Women's Trade Union League, for the evening of April 2nd, in hopes that the night would be a public assembly bringing together people from different segments of society who felt the need to unite towards a common goal--reform. At the Met, workers, most of them East Side immigrants, packed the balconies, and distinguished members of society filled the orchestra seats. The panel on stage was composed of prestigious leaders of the community, church, charity and government. But it was ROSE SCHNEIDERMAN, who had been a leader in the strike at Triangle two years before, who set the tone of the evening: "This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in this city," the East Sider told the audience...(vollständiger Text: Lament for Lives Lost: ROSE SCHNEIDERMAN and the Triangle Fire)
Zwei Kommissionen wurden eingesetzt, ein Kommittee mit 25 Mitgliedern und eines mit 9 Mitgliedern.
The legislature in turn enacted remedial legislation. The four-year term of the commission is, in fact, commonly acknowledged as "the golden era in remedial factory legislation." The labor laws passed between 1911 and 1919 correspond to the Commission's findings--when the Commission discovered a problem, change ensued.
FRANCIS PERKINS, 1911 Mitglied einer Untersuchungskommission und 1938 Arbeitsministerin unter FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, nannte den 11.3.1911 "the day the New Deal began." Deshalb erinnert auch das "New Deal Network" an das Ereignis und zeigt 11 Fotos und diesen Ausschnitt aus dem Gemälde
History of the Needlecraft Industry (1938), by ERNEST FEENEY, High School of Fashion and Industry.
A mural commissioned by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGW).
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELTs New Deal - Politik führte mit dem "Fair Labor Standards Act" 1938 3 Prinzipien in das US-Amerikanische Arbeitsrecht ein:
Vgl. History of US Labor Law
Für 16 Opfer, die nicht identifiziert werden konnten, befindet sich auf dem
Dedicated to the memory of the workers
International Ladies' Garment Workers Union
zeigt. "Beste Arbeitsbedingungen der Welt" kann sich z.B. nicht auf den Urlaub beziehen.
Das Gebäude wird heute von der Universität genutzt und ist "National Historic Landmark", weshalb der Nationalparkdienst es unter "Places where women made history" vorstellt.
Don't Forget The Union Label. A song by THOMAS H. WEST ©1901