Watch This: Triangle Fire, PBS American Experience

*****All for Profit

March, 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, located on a corner of Manhattan’s Washington Square, was in many ways representative of the now infamous sweat shops that exploited young immigrants to the city. Poor wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions had been protested months before by the largest work stoppage in New York history up to that time. While the strike made some gains, many problems persisted, and when a deadly fire broke out within the Triangle workshop, the death toll made the need for reform brutally real.

In this documentary, director producer Jamila Wignot, and executive producer Mark Samels examine the relationship between New York’s social divisions, political corruption,  the industrialists’ quest for profit,  the human rights of workers, and the emergence of the labor movement.  Delving into the archives of  survivor interviews, photographs, films, and written accounts, the narrative personalizes the struggle, aided by insightful commentary from historians. Most of the Triangle workers were young immigrant women wondering why they were deprived of their share of the American Dream. Extensive footage of the factory work rooms, and of the ruthless treatment of picketers, lead up to the fire itself, which broke out on March 25.  Five hundred people occupied the factory that day, and while three quarters escaped, the plight of the victims left helpless is graphically presented. In 45 minutes, 146 people died because of safety violations, in spite of the efforts of fire personnel, which are also well documented. Not surprisingly, the tragedy prompted horror and outrage from the public, which had been well informed about  workers’ complaints in previous months, and which willingly contributed to relief efforts for the families left behind. Finally, the impact of the tragedy, immense public pressure for safety and labor reforms on the local, state, and federal levels, is covered.

Powerful and compelling.

Scheduled to air February 28, 2011. Review based on press preview DVD.

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