Historic 1911 Garment District Fire Is Invoked at Protest Over Deadly Blaze in Bangladesh Clothing Factory Linked to Walmart

A #blocktheboat protest at the Port of Newark garners support from truckers and – surprisingly – some members of law enforcement.

On the morning of December 18th, a group of activists from a number of workers’ rights groups boarded buses at Canal, next to Duarte Park and headed for the Port of Newark. Some 60 participants from the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, the Occupy Working Group 99 and other organizations, set out to #blocktheboat.

The #blocktheboat protest, with funded by the Triangle Fire Coalition, was planned to prevent the unloading of a container ship carrying clothing from Walmart’s Bangladesh factories. The coalition was formed to commemorate a 1911 fire in New York’s garment district that was blamed on lax safety.

News reports have suggested Walmart may have resisted efforts to improve worker safety at a factory where more than 100 garment workers perished in a November fire. You can read more about the Triangle factory fire here.

While the activists were not allowed near the dock, they did make their voices heard – and gained support of the port security and even some of the Port Authority Police and many passing truck drivers who gave us a honk and a thumbs-up.

Early rise for activism: The bus left at 6 a.m., filled with protestors bound for New Jersey. 

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The sun had not yet come up as we entered the Garden State; our bus driver Muhammed checks his GPS. 

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Parked by the port entrance: The protestors are denied entry and told to move to a “safe place.” After some debate with the Port Authority Police Department, they decide to move on.

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The police gave our bus an escort to the designated “safe” free speech zone.

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 “Sea Link” is the Port Authority’s uniform truck driver identification system. About half a dozen police officers stood by and watched. 

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A protestor wears a Guy Fawkes mask while joking with a Port Authority Police officer. 

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Truck drivers entering the port honk horns in support (they were smiling while doing it) of protestors holding anti-Walmart signs.  

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The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition showed up in force to protest Walmart. A similar tragedy in 1911 at a New York garment factory was made all the more significant in light of recent events in Bangladesh. Other activists hold a mock-police tape that proclaims this a “Walmart-Free Zone.”

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Coffin-shaped signs held by activists spell out Walmart in remembrance of the dead in Bangladesh. 

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An unused sign lies on the ground proclaiming “Walmart: Fashion Kills,” after more than 100 workers die in a Bangladesh factory fire. 

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Journalist Josh Eidelson interviews Carol Gay, president of the New Jersey Industrial Union Council. 

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Activists hold up clothing that garment workers would have worn, with the names of victims of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York.  

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Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) organizer Maritza Silva-Farrell thanks activists for their early rise and urges a continued struggle. 

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