The Bread and Roses Strike, 1912

Strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1912

The strike was organised and supported by diverse groups within the community.

The Bread and Roses Award takes its name from the strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912, when 20,000 textile workers, who between them spoke 45 different languages, came together to strike for better pay and human dignity. The strike later became known as the Bread and Roses Strike.

On January 1 1912 the Massachusetts State Legislature ordered mill owners to reduce the working week from 56 to 54 hours. On January 12, the owners complied, but also cut wages and speeded up production rates to compensate.

The Industrial Workers of the World

The Industrial Workers of the World were involved in planning and organising the strike.

Workers across the town immediately went on strike, defying the mill owners’ attempts to sow dissension among their ranks. What followed can only be described as a war, with the strikers carefully planning their campaign and the owners reacting with intimidation, threats, and actual force.

Strikers were arrested and jailed for 12 months for throwing snowballs.

The son of a former mayor of Lawrence planted dynamite on three of the strikers in an attempt to discredit the strike.

Agents were hired to masquerade as strikers and attempted to start riots, but the strikers were disciplined and refused to resort to violence.

The worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children

Bill Haywood, a militant leader of mine workers, also came to join the campaign

On March 12 the mill owners caved in to all the strikers’ demands, and the strike ended on March 14 1912.

The full story of the strike was written by William Cahn in Lawrence 1912: The Bread and Roses Strike, published by Pilgrim Press in 1980. Pictures on this page are reproduced from that book.

You can find the full text of the striking workers’ proclamation at Wikisource.

“Bread and Roses” since 1912

The phrase “Bread and Roses” has been used subsequently by many radical projects – in this country these have included two libertarian journals and the Bread and Roses pub in Clapham, run by local trade unionists. Wikipedia lists many projects using the Bread and Roses name.

Also on Wikipedia, you can read the full text of the 1911 poem by James Oppenheim which started it all. This begins:

As we come 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!”

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