Saturday, February 9, 2019

The 1912 Bread and Roses Strike

Elizabeth Warren made an impressive speech just now in the freezing cold of Lawrence, Massachusetts:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign Saturday at a rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts, using the backdrop of Everett Mills -- the site of a historic 1912 labor strike led by women and immigrants -- to issue a call to action against wealthy power brokers who "have been waging class warfare against hardworking people for decades." Over 44 minutes in sub-freezing temperatures, Warren described a political elite "bought off" and "bullied" by corporate giants, and a middle class squeezed so tight it "can barely breathe." "The man in the White House is not the cause of what is broken, he is just the latest and most extreme symptom of what's gone wrong in America," Warren said of President Donald Trump. "A product of a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else. So once he's gone, we can't pretend that none of this ever happened."
Warren has staked herself as the true progressive in terms of those who have already announced. I’m sure many others will comment on the specifics of her speech so let me note this 1912 strike:
The power looms that thundered inside the cotton weaving room of the Everett Mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, suddenly fell silent on January 11, 1912. When a mill official demanded to know why workers were standing motionless next to their machines, the explanation was simple: “Not enough pay.” The weavers who had opened their pay envelopes that afternoon discovered their weekly wages had been reduced by 32 cents. A newly enacted Massachusetts law had reduced the workweek of women and children from 56 to 54 hours, but mill owners, unlike in the past, cut worker’s wages proportionally. For workers who only averaged $8.76 per week, every penny was precious, and 32 cents made the difference between eating a meal or going hungry.
This story notes how this strike grew in force. How did it become known as the bread and roses strike?
Women didn’t shy away from the protests. They delivered fiery rally speeches and marched in picket lines and parades. The banners they carried demanding both living wages and dignity—“We want bread, and roses, too”—gave the work stoppage its name, the Bread and Roses Strike. Lawrence, known as “Immigrant City,” was a true American melting pot with citizens from 51 nations wedged into seven square miles. Although strikers lacked common cultures and languages, they remained united in a common cause. The social networks of the day—soup kitchens, ethnic organizations, community halls—stitched the patchwork of strikers together. And once news of the walkout went viral in newspapers around the country, American laborers took up collections for the strikers and local farmers arrived with food donations.
Warren was smart to pick this town and cite this 1912 strike as its all inclusive nature serves as a perfect backdrop for what will be an all inclusive Presidential campaign.

1 comment:

Pat Holm said...

Thank for noting this Lawrence Strike. I wrote my Master's Thesis Called "Bread and Roses" in 1987. It was about labor theater starting with the Strike. And how they put on a play in NY, all coming together on the railways...I will have to read it again. It was so exciting to hear about this.