Bread and Roses: Lawrence Strike at 100

An important  message from the ILRF:


One hundred years ago today, on January 12, 1912, thousands of workers at a textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, shut down their looms and walked out on the job. Half of the workers were girls between the ages of 14 and 18. They were barely getting by on $8.76 a week, when a new state law that reduced the workweek for women and children from 56 to 54 hours went into effect, resulting in a paycut. This meant that workers could afford even less bread than before. The strike quickly spread to mills across the city. By the end of the week, more than 20,000 textile workers were participating in the historic stike.

The workers organized across ethnicities and languages to take concerted action. They persisted despite violent strike-breaking by management and the state. After two months on strike, the workers won their demands of a 15% pay raise, double pay for overtime, and no discrimination for strike activity. To avoid similar confrontations, textile companies throughout New England followed suit by granting similar concessions. Later, the strike was coined the Bread and Roses Strike, referencing a 1911 poem by James Oppenheim, which originated the now-famous words: "Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!"

Today the production of textiles is a more automated industry, but the sewing of garments remains nearly as labor-intensive as one hundred years ago. Most of the production now takes place in countries all across the globe where labor costs are low and regulations weak. Today's working conditions in the global garment industry are all too similar to the conditions of a century ago. And yet, against all odds, workers continue to organize. Most workers in the globalized garment industry are far from having the dignity and respect that roses represent; they are still fighting for their bread.

To learn more about the history of the strike and about the parallels with today's garment industry, check out our new flier, "Bread and Roses: Garment and Textile Worker Organizing, Then and Now." Download, print, and make copies to bring to events in your community. Share it with history teachers and students.

While garment workers' struggles are ongoing, the lessons of the strike ring true today: when workers fearlessly stand up for their rights and receive solidarity support from the broader community when necessary, they can win change. As an example, we're happy to share that one of the campaigns that we've been supporting since the fall reached a victory this week. In Haiti, almost immediately after workers announced a new national garment workers’ union (the organization’s name in Haitian Kreyol is Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman, or SOTA), a factory named Genesis that employed four leaders of the national union responded by forcing one worker to resign and firing the other three. Genesis produces almost exclusively for Gildan, the leading producer of blank T-shirts for the North American market, which are used by universities, public entities, and groups buying in bulk. ILRF called on our supporters to take action; nearly 5000 of you sent letters to Gildan, urging reinstatement of the four workers. While there were unfortunately delays in getting the workers reinstated, the successful remediation of code of conduct violations at Genesis represents an important labor rights breakthrough in the growing Haitian apparel industry. ILRF will continue to monitor the case, to ensure that Gildan maintains its orders in the factory and that the workers are freely allowed to speak out for their rights on the job.

Please support ILRF in our work this year - both with your donations and with your activism. Join our SweatFree Communities campaign by urging your city or state to stop buying public employee uniforms made in sweatshops, and ask groups that you're part of to buy union-made living-wage clothing.

In solidarity,

Liana Foxvog
SweatFree Communities,
International Labor Rights Forum

Sharing is Sexy!


Who's Online

We have 21 guests and one member online