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Our “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory”

21 September 2016

Everyone has seen the photos of the destroyed Regis Hotel, and Tlatelolco taken the morning of the 19th of September 1985.  The first — a luxury hotel — and the middle class housing project, were the locus of attempts to save lives, while in San Antonio Abad, filled with small factories and sweatshops, the media and public were kept away.  There, rescue efforts, such as they were, focused on recovering property rather than saving lives. Small gold-working shops in the neighborhood (which weren’t labor-intensive) were the center of official attention in San Antonio Abad.

Over 300 seamstresses and other workers would die and most of their bodies never recovered in the disaster. Employees who survived (or were working other shifts) were particularly outraged that not only had the owners, with the help of the army, spent their time retrieving sewing machines and fabric, but these workers were denied a full week’s pay for circumstances beyond their control… this even though workers like 22-year old presser Daniel Ramírez and seamstress Concepcíon Guerrero — both on the 8 AM shift — showed up for work, and stayed.  They, like other textile workers from around the city came to dig out the bodies and recover what they could.  The workers got a small measure of vengeance when they found and brought out a company safe.  Unable to crack it, they sold it as is for scrap metal!

foto_1_baja_0More practically, and more long lasting, the workers discovered their union, either unable or unwilling to provide practical assistance (and help the workers receive compensation for their own losses) organized a separate union, the short-lived 19th of September Seamstresses and Tailors Syndicate, which fought for better working conditions and compensation for textile workers, forcing the government to crack down on hiring underage workers, and enforce safety regulations, as well as a number of “lunch-bucket” demands for better pay and hours.

Although Daniel and Concepcíon would be black-listed by the owners, and the union crushed, the unlikely heroes are still leaders in the workers’ movement, through the 19th of September Seamstresses Civil Association, which provides legal assistance, as well as training, educational, recreational, and self-improvement programs for the textile worker community and their families.

While throughout the Capital, there are special masses said at 7:19 in the morning every 19th of September, in San Antonio Abad, there is an additional ceremony, laying wreathes at the monument dedicated to all textile workers in general, and to the 300 or more who lost their lives because the machinery and cloth was considered more valuable than those who made it into clothing.

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