early 1912, in the textile manufacturing centre of Lawrence, Massachusetts, over 20,000 workers walked out of
the mills to protest a rollback in their already meagre pay. When the work week was reduced by law from 56 to
54 hours a week, the textile bosses cut back the workers’ wages to match. The massive walk-out, organized by
the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), became known as the “Three Loaves Strike,” referring to what could
be bought for the amount that wages were being cut, “The Singing Strike” because the songs of the IWW were
being heard everywhere, and “The Bread and Roses Strike” because young women workers carried a banner with
the slogan “We want bread and roses too.” The strike was begun and led by mainly immigrant women,
creating unity and solidarity across ethnic, religious and cultural lines.
The strike lasted from the 11th of January to March 14th. Facing police and strikebreakers, the strikers bravely held on until their demands for better wages and working conditions were met. They were drenched with icy water from fire hoses; mothers and children were beaten and clubbed; a pregnant woman was beaten so badly, she miscarried and another woman, Anna LoPizzo, was shot by the police.
A century later, workers face drastic rollbacks as we continue to fight the unjust inequalities between the 99% “that toil” while the 1% “reposes.” As trade union women, when we sing “Bread and Roses” in memory of these brave sisters, its words are still relevant to us...