I’m deeply moved to have been invited to read the Triangle Fire segment from Love Justice at the annual commemoration of the horrific 1911 sweatshop blaze.
In Love Justice, I wrote of how my wife Carol’s grandmother, Sheindl, had been denied a job at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory just one week before the appalling tragedy, whether for her “infamous” union organizing, or for her klutzy sewing skills. Had Sheindl been hired, Carol surely would never have been born.
My paternal grandmother, Schifra Bomze, was a proud member of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). As per her fervent wishes, Schifra was buried in the company of her “union sisters and brothers” in the ILGWU plot at Beth Moses cemetery.
Schifra sewed linings into children’s coats, and was paid by “piecework”. As a gifted seamstress, she would volunteer her time to rip out and fix the mistakes of her sister workers, so they’d get paid enough to eat and pay the rent, though she herself, widowed in the Holocaust, was raising two children alone.
When David Dubinsky, union leader, complimented Schifra for all her help to the other workers (this on Schifra’s own time), she felt proud. Meanwhile, when her boss complained about this same activity (when she instead could have been producing more pieces of her own more quickly instead of coming to the aid of her comrades) she showed the factory boss her union card, banged with her fist on her sewing machine, and powerfully declared, “You take what you get, not a stitch more!”.
Grandma Schifra imparted this story to me as an ethics lecture when I was a teenager about to embark on my first “real” job other than babysitting.
I hope you will join me at the Triangle fire commemoration, on Washington and Greene Streets on Wednesday, March 25th. Presentations from the soundstage should begin a bit after 11, when the NYC Labor Chorus will resound. I’m up next!
Love goes out to all,