Bread and Roses Strike Begins, January 11, 1912
Today is the anniversary of the start of the "Bread and Roses" strike in 1912 in Lawrence, Mass. This was a pivotal battle in American labor history and in the struggle for women's rights in the United States. The backbone of the strike were women workers and workers from immigrant communities.
As the Zinn Education Project article on the strike states:
The 1912 Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass., was one of the most significant struggles in U.S. labor history due to its level of organization and collaboration across ethnic and gender lines. Thousands of largely female workers engaged in a lengthy, well-organized, and successful walkout, standing firm against an entrenched group of mill owners and their hundreds of militia and police. Workers maintained soup kitchens and nurseries for children. Meetings were simultaneously translated into nearly 30 languages. Representatives from every nationality formed a 50-person strike leadership group.
The IWW played a major role in the strike and as a history of it on their website notes:
...the Lawrence strike resonates as one of the most important in the history of the United States. 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, the strike was also unique. It was the first large-scale industrial strike, the overwhelming majority of the strikers were immigrants, most were 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)...
...The spark was lit on Jan. 11, 1912, the first payday since a law reducing the maximum hours per week from 56 to 54 went into effect on Jan. 1. Because mill owners speeded up the line to make up the difference, workers expected their pay would remain the same. Upon discovering that their pay had been reduced, a group of Polish women employed at the Everett Cotton Mill walked off the job. By the following morning, half of the city’s 30,000 mill hands were on strike. On Monday, Jan. 15, 20,000 workers were out on the picket line. Soon, every mill in town was closed and the number of strikers had swelled to 25,000, including virtually all of the less-skilled workers. The owners, contemptuous of the ability of uneducated, immigrant workers to do for themselves, did not bother to recruit scabs, certain they would prevail quickly. By the time they realized they had a fight on their hands, the strikers were so well-organized that importing scabs was a far more difficult proposition.