Bread & Roses

20120112 Bread Roses

There’s a song at the end of this. I’ll dedicate it to women in NJ’s labor movement.

Today is the 100th anniversary of one of the most important moments in labor history, in women’s history, and in American history. From AFL-CIO blog:

On Jan. 12, 1912, some 25,000 workers at the mills of the American Woolen Company in Lawrence walked off the job when the company cut their pay-already a mere $8 a week for the men, and less for the women and children-after the state legislature passed a law shortening the length of their workweek from 56 hours to 54 hours. Workers stayed off the job for months, enduring beatings from police and the Massachusetts militia, who spared not even women and children.

Massachusetts, not New Jersey. Yes, this is outside our coverage area, same as when I took note of the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (NYC). A history professor at University of Massachusetts calls Bread and Roses “the first Occupy”- “the 99% against the 1% of 1912.” Income disparity drives the Occupy movement, now a crossroads. And Labor is in flux, weakened in some states as historic collective bargaining rights are being challenged to varying degree. Wisconsin. Indiana. Ohio. New Jersey. There’s something in the story of this strike – led by women, and successful – that’s still inspiring. Especially to women.

When I was very young, one of my mother’s friends in the school integration movement outside Detroit (where we lived) gave her a song – Bread and Roses – she said reminded her of me: Bread and Roses. An amazing song, Judy Collins’ silvery soprano and Mimi Farina’s liquidy mezzo. And it’s about the best compliment I ever had.

Late-night musical bonus. Listen – under the fold.

Bread and Roses

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.


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