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Bread and Roses

Bread And Roses A Hundred Years On

One hundred years ago, in the dead of a Massachusetts winter, the great 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike—commonly referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike—began. Accounts differ as to whether a woman striker actually held a sign that read “We Want Bread and We Want Roses, Too.” No matter. It’s a wonderful phrase, as appropriate for the Lawrence strikers as for any group at any time: the notion that, in addition to the necessities for survival, people should have “a sharing of life’s glories,” as James Oppenheim put it in his poem “Bread and Roses.” Though 100 years have passed, the Lawrence strike resonates as one of the most important in the history of the United States. Like many labor conflicts of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the strike was marked by obscene disparities in wealth and power, open collusion between the state and business owners, large scale violence against unarmed strikers, and great ingenuity and solidarity on the part of workers. In important ways, though, the strike was also unique. It was the first large-scale industrial strike, the overwhelming majority of the strikers were immigrants, most were women and children, and the strike was guided in large part by the revolutionary strategy and vision of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
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