‘Give us bread, but give us roses’

Lawrence Textile Strike (Jan. 11 – March 12, 1912)


A great chapter in labor history – the militant strike of mostly women and children – immigrant textile workers. Conditions in the mills were so horrific that a third of the workers died before age 25. But led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the workers forged a unity and took militant direct action that led to victory. Strike meetings were simultaneously translated into nearly 30 languages. All nationalities were represented in a 50-person strike committee.

The strike remains an inspiring example of what is possible when we quit groveling at the feet of liberal politicians and create our own methods of struggle. We still fight for economic justice. We still fight for beauty and meaning in our lives. We want bread and roses too.


5′ x 7′ banner by Mike Alewitz / 2008



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.

As we come 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 come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient song of 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 come 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.

— By James Oppenheim


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