Bread and Roses
An internet rabbithole, as they go.
Not long ago I watched the film Pride (set largely in 1984 Wales), and there was a scene where the community hall broke into the song Bread and Roses. I was on a plane, otherwise I’d probably have googled it.
I was looking at some labor history links today after looking at some titles on Scribd and came across this by the Labor Education Service from the University of Minnesota: there again, Bread and Roses (1912, far from Wales).
So now, reading the lyrics and looking up the strike and the song both, this is how we get the name Rose Schneiderman - who coined the phrase that was turned into a slogan, poem and song.
All of this to say that I was moved by a speech from Rose herself, in the wake of the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Thank you wikipedia for that. And now perhaps I ought to find more to read of hers, but that is the beauty of internet rabbitholes, there is always more to read:
“I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire.
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death.
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us.
Public officials have only words of warning to us – warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable.
I can’t talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”