On Labor Day, I attended the Bread and Roses Heritage Festival. This year was the 100th anniversary of the great textile strike which set so much in motion - which made it possible for workers to organize, for citizens to organize, for women to organize. One of the groups performing was Besere Velt (Better World) who gave a show about the history of the strike. What struck me the most was their presentation of the beginning of the strike - especially how they were able to mobilize people without having a common language, and not having twitter. Sadly, the video does not capture the people planted in the audience shouting out strike in a multiple of languages, almost reflecting the 20 or so languages spoken by mill workers in Lawrence, MA.
I also appreciated the understanding that all workers and their families were in this cause together, especially that women were also interested in the welfare of men. My favorite line from the Bread and Roses song is "The rising of the women means the rising of the race." The lyrics to this song were originally written as a poem by James Oppenheim, who worked at Hudson Guild, started by Ethical Culture Leader John Lovejoy Elliott.
I recently attended a performance by Charlie King and Karen Brandow called Occupy Lawrence. Again, they were honoring the centennial of the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence. They went over many of the same facts details that I've been learning about, yet I found myself resonating more deeply with presentation, as they emphasized the connection between how conditions were 100 years ago and how they are now. They spoke of the rich stockholders and owners of the mills, and the mansions they lived in, sharply contrasting with the tenements the workers lived in; the 1% versus the 99%. They spoke of the power of organizing with a union - the Industrial Workers of the World, that accepted and encouraged women, and people of all nationalities to be active in the strike.
Many good changes came out of the Bread and Roses strike. Workers did get raises, they got increased pay for overtime, although there was retribution against some of the most active organizers. Nationally, the Children's Labor Bureau was started, with the support of President Taft. Sadly, many of the mill owners moved within the decade to having mills in southern states that were not unionized.
Another performer on Labor Day was Si Kahn, http://sikahn.com/about.shtml. His website tells us: Si Kahn has worked for over 45 years as a civil rights, labor and community organizer and musician. In between songs, Si commented how not only is this year the anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike, but that we are in a decade of centennial celebrations of activism. What a wonderful reminder that people can organize, can work together, even if they don't speak the same language, to make powerful changes, making for more humane working conditions, letting women vote.
I am optimistic to see the results of the Chicago Teachers Strike, showing that people can band together in a union and fight for the benefit of workers, and in this case, children too.
This is our heritage, this is our hope, and working to make the world better is our obligation.
I wrote about this strike back in January, for the actual anniversary.
A good resource for information about the Bread and Roses strike is the Bread and Roses Heritage website Jone Johnson Lewis, Ethical Culture Leader and Women's History Guide on About.com a great synopsis of the Bread and Roses strike.
You can hear and watch http://www.charlieking.org/videos.html ">Charlie King and Karen Brandow and see their touring schedule - so you perhaps can see them in person.