Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Barred windows at factory in Karachi where nearly three hundred died in fire

On March 25, 1911, a huge fire engulfed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York's garment district.  When it ended 146 workers, primarily women from immigrant families were dead.

The book  “Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire,” describes what happened, 

Pauline Cuoio Pepe was a nineteen-year-old sewing machine operator and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. "It was all nice young Jewish girls who were engaged to be married. You should see the diamonds and everything. Those were the ones who threw themselves from the window," Pepe told a Manhattan historian. "What the hell did they close the door for? What did the think we were going out with? What are we gonna do, steal a shirtwaist? Who the heck wanted a shirtwaist?" asked Pepe. 

Pauline Cuoio Pepe recounted that the workers didn't even use the regular doors to leave the factory. "...we never went out the front door. We always went one by one out the back. There was a man there searching, because the people were afraid we would take something, so that door was always locked." Even the doors that were not locked were of no use to the workers. The doors in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory only opened inward. When the girls tried to escape through the doors, the girls in front could not open the doors because of all of the girls pushing from behind. If the door opened outward, the onrush of girls would have opened the door. The factories would be required to make all doors open outward in factories. At the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, some of the doors were locked. Usually the doors were locked so that clothing could not be stolen through unwatched doors. When the girls tried to escape through the locked doors, the fire consumed them. All doors were to remain unlocked during business hours in accordance with new regulations. Sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above ground level. The girls of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company only had 27 buckets of water to save themselves from the fire. 

In other words these people died from the system known as capitalism and its drive for unrelenting accumulation at any cost...human life be damned. 

Yesterday it happened again.  This time in Pakistan.  It happened not once but twice and in two different cities.  This time at least 314 people died because they were unable to escape bukldkings that lacked emergency exits and any basic safety equipment.  There were no alarms.  There were no sprinklers.  There were no fire exits.

This is global capital operating out in the provinces of the Empire still digging for profits, still uncaring about the workers whose labor they extort.

The most deadly of the two fires was at a garment factory again, this time in Karachi.   The windows on the uspper floors were barred trapping workers inside.  Those who made it past the bars often jumped to their deaths.  

Mohammad Ilyas, speaking from the hospital and quoted in The Star, said he was working with roughly 50 other men and women on one of the floors when suddenly a fireball came from the staircase.

“I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars,” he said. “That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor.”

The factories bosses have fled and are being sought by police.  

The Clean Clothes Campaign which fights on behalf of garment workers and others issued the following on its website:

CCC mourns the senseless deaths of at least 250 garment workers who perished in three factory fires in Pakistan and Russia this week.

"These deaths could and should have been avoided", says CCC International Coordinator Ineke Zeldenrust. “Emergency exits were absent or locked, and workers were trapped. This is the usual pattern: it is well known that many work places are unsafe, and that workers in key producing countries risk their lives on a daily basis producing clothes for Europe and the USA.”

CCC urges brands as well as governments and employers to upgrade the buildings and train workers and management.

Most importantly, they should ensure that workers can freely organize and speak out when safety regulations are ignored. Victims also need to have access to the best possible medical care and to fair compensation. Unions and labour groups in Pakistan have announced major protests today and tomorrow.

CCC is working with partners on the ground to obtain more information, and calls upon all brands sourcing from the suppliers in question to come forward.

The other fire which killed 25 people was in a four story shoe factory in Lahore.  That factory was illegally established in a residential district.  Sparks from a generator set off the fire when they came in contact with chemicals used to make the shoes.  Muhammad Shabbir, one of the workers, told the news media that all the chemicals and the generator were located in a garage which also was the only way out of the place.  

A firefighter at the scene, Numan Noor, said the reason most of the victims died was because the main escape route was blocked.
“The people went to the back side of the building but there was no access, so we had to make forceful entries and ... rescue the people,” said Noor.
"The owner of the factory should also be burned to death the way our dear ones have died in a miserable condition," said Nizam-ud-Din, whose nephew died in the fire in Karachi.

The following is from Pakistan Today.

HRCP slams deaths in factory fires

NNI11 hrs ago | Comments (1)

LAHORE - The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed grief and grave concern at the death of at least 250 people in devastating fires that gutted two factories in Karachi and Lahore and demanded immediate attention to ensuring safe working conditions for factory workers across the country.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Commission said: “HRCP is deeply saddened and acutely concerned both by the high toll of life claimed by fires at factories in Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday as well as the factors that contributed to the tragic incidents.

According to media report, the death toll at a garments factory in Karachi stands at around 230 and many people are injured or unaccounted for. It appears that only a few workers in the factory at the time of the fire could get out safely. There were 35 workers in the shoe factory in Lahore when the fire erupted there. At least 25 of them have now been confirmed dead and all of the rest are injured.

“The government has announced probes into the incidents but many of the factors that contributed to the fires and the high death toll are known to most people who have even a casual interest in working conditions at such establishments. It is already known that absence of multiple exit-entry points prevented the workers from escaping the infernos in time. The factory in Lahore only had one entry/exit point. In Karachi, many workers suffered broken bones as they jumped out of windows of the four-storey building to save their lives. Highly inflammable substances were stored without safety measures and lack of fire alarms and fire-fighting equipment aggravated the situation.

“While the government probes the causes of these terrible incidents, it should also investigate and share with the people why these factories were allowed to operate without observing safety measures. Why were these factories not challaned for unsafe storage of substances? Why had no one paid attention to lack of multiple entry/exit points and absence of safe evacuation plans in case of emergency?

“It is obvious that in both cases the proprietors had prioritized profit above all else and showed utter disregard for workers’ safety, but was the government not supposed to watch out for the interests of the workers including safe working conditions for them? The head of the fire-fighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was “dangerous”, “flimsily built” and that there were no emergency exits. Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?

“The entire fire-fighting fleet of Karachi, including those from the navy, the air force and the Karachi Port Trust, struggled for long hours to douse the flames. Their efforts are laudable but the capacity to fight fires even in the country’s biggest city is questionable at best. Things are worse elsewhere in Pakistan. It is hoped that the official probes will look at that aspect as well.

“Our heart goes out to the victims and their families. We hope and demand that the government will announce adequate compensation for the families of the deceased and provide the best medical care possible to the injured. HRCP also calls upon the government to initiate criminal proceedings against the factory owners and ensure in consultation with workers’ representative, safe working conditions at the workplace as well as initiate effective monitoring of workplaces by inspectors to prevent such tragic incidents in the future.”

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