Labor Arts | The Triangle Fire | The Uprising of the 20,000
The Triangle Fire: One Hundred Years After
The Uprising of the 20,000

In November 1909, 20,000 shirtwaist workers, most of them young immigrant women, went out on strike, demanding shorter hours, better pay, and improved working conditions. They also objected to the common practice of locking the doors of the work floors from the outside as a security measure and as a way to control the workforce. The strikers, members of Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, faced fierce opposition from employers. Picketing led to mass arrests and police brutality. However, the strikers gained the support from the Women's Trade Union League. The WTUL provided them with legal, financial, and public relations assistance. By February 1910 most employers had signed union contracts. The Triangle Company and some of the other larger firms resisted.

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On November 22, 1909, in the Grand Hall at Cooper Union, more than 1,000 Jewish and Italian immigrant garment workers launched the eleven-week strike that became known as the Uprising of the 20,000. Clara Lemlich, a 23-year-old strike leader and member of Local 25's executive board, demanded the floor and delivered an impassioned speech. “I am a working girl, one of one of those who are on strike against intolerable conditions…. I offer a resolution that a strike be declared now.“

Photograph courtesy Kheel Center.

Clara Lemlich

Photograph, courtesy Tamiment Library.

New York Call. November 23, 1909.

 

Striking garment workers.

Photograph, courtesy Kheel Center.

Striking garment workers.

Photograph, courtesy Library of Congress.

Garment workers in the streets.

Photograph, courtesy Kheel Center.

A meeting to protest police brutality and honor arrested strikers, Carnegie Hall, January 2, 1910.

Photograph, courtesy Kheel Center.

Shirtwaist strikers being taken to the Jefferson Market prison.

Photograph, courtesy Kheel Center.

Six women including Mary Dreier, head of the Women's Trade Union League, march with arms linked to City Hall to protest the arrest of the strikers.

Photograph, courtesy Kheel Center.