#Speech4Breakfast: Day 4
Rose Schneiderman – Speech at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
Read by Bernice “Boom Boom” Brooks
“The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.”
“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.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
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.” – Rose Schneiderman
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory near Washington Square. There were 500 workers in the building at the time of the fire. The building lacked accessible fire escapes and equipment, and doors were locked to prevent unauthorized work breaks. 146 workers, most of whom were Jewish and Italian immigrant women, died that day. Rose Schneiderman was one of the leaders of the strike initiated by the Women’s Trade Union League. The following speech was delivered at the Metropolitan Opera House on April 2, 1911.
*We recognize that no figure, group, or movement is without complexity. In highlighting each of these speeches, we seek to honor first and foremost the act of speaking truth to power.