Posted 10 years ago on Jan. 2, 2012, 2:12 p.m. EST by flip
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Bread and Roses, 100 Years On By Andy Piascik
One hundred years ago, in the dead of a Massachusetts winter, the great 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 Bread and Roses strike resonates as one of the most important in U.S. history. 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, Lawrence was also unique. It was the first large industrial strike, the overwhelming majority of the strikers were immigrants, mostly 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).
It is noteworthy that the Occupy movement shares many philosophical and strategic characteristics with the Lawrence strike—direct action, the prominent role of women, the centrality of class, participatory decision-making, egalitarianism, an authentic belief in the principle that We Are All Leaders, to name just a few. During the two months of the Lawrence strike, the best parts of the revolutionary movement were expressed. And, as the attempt at a general strike in Oakland and solidarity events—such as in New York for striking Teamsters—indicate, many in Occupy understand that the working class is uniquely positioned to challenge corporate power. While we deepen our understanding of what that means and work to make it happen, there is much of value we can learn from what happened in Lawrence a century ago.