Originally published in the Forverts, March 27, 1911
The entire neighborhood is sitting shiva. Every heart is torn in mourning. The human heart is drowning in tears. What a catastrophe! What a dark misfortune!
The depth of the pain, the bitter ripping of the heart, for the first time the soul is overflowing such that it’s impossible to form thoughts about the event. There’s no room in the heart for anything but sadness.
Slowly, when the tears dry up, the eyes see the Angel of Death, who is responsible for this destruction. Slowly, as the smoke of the youthful burned offerings clears away, one sees the hideous thug standing over these victims and thousands of others, with his slaughterer’s knife in hand. Slowly, as the mourning period ebbs, within each soul is a seething anger about this mass murder.
Who is the Angel of Death? Who is the thug? Who is the mass murderer?
Must we again say it is that gluttonous ravager of humans — capital?!
It’s being called “a tragedy.” Of course it’s an accident, and a frightening enough one. But is this the same type of disaster as an earthquake? Or a plague? Like thunder or hail? Is it in fact a type of “natural” disaster that cannot be prevented?
Is it “natural” that hundreds of youth should be imprisoned in a 10-story firetrap?
Is it “natural” for so many people to be crowded in together and for there not to be enough emergency exits?
Is it “natural” for such a firetrap of a building to have locked doors?
Is this an unjustifiable tragedy?
Have we not written and initiated for weeks, months, years about the risky modern shop buildings with hundreds of young men and women workers who are always in danger for their lives in those buildings? Have we not agitated about these horrible firetraps?
Hasn’t the union led a long fight? Isn’t this one of the demands of their campaign? Didn’t this battle begin with the long, bitter strike at this same destructive shop of the Triangle Waist Company?
How can this be termed a “rare accident” when we warned over and over again about it?
Did we see this coming?
Should we not have warned about it?
Are they not, who we warned so many times and who didn’t heed our warnings, the murderers of the young victims?
In truth, there is not one responsible party but rather the entire capitalist system and its government.
Oh, they campaigned for an “open shop.” And for them, “open shops” refers to an entrance for the children of the working classes. To be accurate, it’s more like a bird trap.
However, when the time comes to escape the Angel of Death and get out of there — the “open shop” is more akin to a tightly closed one — exactly like that trap.
Truth be told, this particular shop wasn’t built any worse than dozens of others. And that’s not to excuse this one, but rather to hold all the other ones equally in contempt.
No one can convince us that it’s acceptable to find such shops where hundreds of people — children — sit stubbornly packed in there 10 stories high, and shouldn’t they have opportunities to escape fire!
We repeat, we don’t know whichever capitalist or others who specifically should be considered responsible for this particular tragedy. But there should be no doubt that the capitalist leaders are generally guilty for this, who do all in their power to extract as much profit as possible from their capital even if it costs thousands of lives!
On the altar of capitalism, that bloodthirsty idol, which is never quenched with human blood, burned these 149 young lives!
That 10-story building in which the masses of young men and women workers died is not the only such structure. Hundreds of these types of buildings exist that are in danger of becoming, at any minute, just such a sacrificial altar for hundreds of victims.
The Fire Department’s Chief Croker says that he had disclosed earlier that sooner or later a horrible tragedy would take place in this building. What did our city government do to uphold his statement? Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!
It was busy with Tammany politics. With worshiping Wall Street. With strike breaking. With assisting capital in thousands of places.
What does it mean when a few hundred workers are burned? In a few days the city will be done with this; there will be some new disturbance; the sensation will be over; new ones will take its place.
As far as the old one is concerned, a single troubling fire escape remains for structures in which hundreds of workers are present! Those kinds of buildings are called “firetraps.” Typically, capital is expressed on a grandiose scale; those firetraps are cities unto themselves. There are dozens of these cities of fire in New York.
Will anything be done about this now?
The blood of our victims screams out at all of us. The souls of our burned ones demand we must compel our cloistered government to fulfill its duty.