Bread and Roses
International Women's Day
March is nearly spring, and Women’s History Month.
That’s when courageous women, mostly immigrants, organized by the Wobblies, went
on strike in a textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts from January to March in 1912.
Howard Zinn’s history says that these women invented the moving picket line, so they
woudn’t be arrested. They won pay increases, and time and a quarter for overtime, as
well as a promise that strikers would not be discriminated against. Suffrage activist
Helen Todd used the words together.
Poet James Oppenheim wrote a poem inspired by the strikers, called Bread and Roses,
Three composters wrote music to the song. The earliest was written by Caroline
Kohlsaat in 1917. By the thirties, women used it on picket lines all the time.
And then, Mimi Farina, Joan Baez’s sister, set the song to different music.
Hers became the most popular, but so many people, hundreds, have sung beautiful
versions including Judy Collins, Utah Phillips, Ani DiFranco, and Pete Seeger.
When I met Moe Foner, at 1199, he’d recently started Bread and Roses, the only labor
union culture program in the country. In a thousand ways he changed the trajectory of
my life when he told me about why we needed roses alongside our bread, and why
everyone else did too. And how we all had to work to make that happen.
Just yesterday a friend in California sent me Pat Humphries version of the song.
Today’s a good day to listen.
Please come to our April 1 Alte Passover SOMETHING 6 pm.
And join our FACEBOOK page. You have a week left to submit to
the next Alte issue. House/Home/Yours is the theme. And here’s
the gorgeous new website https://www.altegettingoldtogether.com
waiting for your words and images too.
Roses alongside bread.