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The Lawrence Textile Strike

January 11, 2018

The Lawrence, Massachusetts textile workers strike, led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), began on this date in 1912. The strike was called after employers cut workers’ wages in response to a new state law that had reduced the maximum work week of women and children from 56 hours to 54. The walkout lasted two months and united thousands of women of varying ethnicities who spoke dozens of languages among them; it ended after most of the strikers’ demands were met. The strike later became known as the “Bread and Roses strike,” after the poem, “Bread and Roses,” by James Oppenheim (1882-1932) that had been published in American Magazine in December 1911. Oppenheim was a poet, an editor, and a lay psychoanalyst — an early follower of Carl Jung who worked for the Hudson Guild Settlement and the Hebrew Technical School for Girls in New York. He was also the founder and editor of Seven Arts magazine until he was blacklisted for his opposition to World War I.

The Lawrence History Center created an extensive online exhibit about the strike to mark the Bread and Roses Centennial in 2012.

“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.”
—James Oppenheim, from “Bread and Roses”

Listen to Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Farina sing Farina’s arrangement of James Oppenheim’s poem: