March 31, 2011

Mural flap ironic in lightof Triangle fire of 1911

Kennebec Journal Staff

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in New York City was observed on March 25.

The fire broke out on the top floors of the 10-story Asch Building. Most of the employees were young women, some as young as 14. They found the exit doors on the ninth floor locked -- to prevent the employees from stealing. Many crowded onto the ninth floor fire escape, which collapsed under their weight. Others waited for rescue from the Fire Department, but the ladders were several stories too short.

Many of the workers jumped to their death. The last four bodies were identified only a few weeks ago. As a result of the fire, New York enacted several safety measures to protect workers.

Over weekend, Gov. Paul LePage completed his plan to remove the mural from the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor. The mural shows moments from Maine labor history, including strikes in 1937 at shoe mills in Auburn and Lewiston, and Rosie the Riveter at Bath Iron Works during World War II. Apparently, some people found this mural offensive. LePage said the mural does not represent the pro-business agenda of the Department of Labor.

LePage also has ordered the renaming of conference rooms in the department that are named after labor leaders. Perhaps they could name rooms after Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, owners of the Asch Building, where 146 young immigrant women died 100 years ago.

Jo Lynn Southard


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