The police have recovered 803 bodies from the collapsed eight-story Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh as of May 8. This is a tragedy that reminds me of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 in New York that killed 146 textile workers and helped spur legislation for safer working conditions. I hope that the workers in Bangladesh are able to organize and win the labour rights and safer working conditions that all workers in the world deserve.
On 2 April 1911, Rose Schneiderman addressed the Women's Trade Union League in NY in a memorial meeting held to remember the Triangle fire. A socialist and union activist, Rose used the fire as an argument for factory workers to organize:
"I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting.
The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire....
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us—warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement."