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Festival honors Bread and Roses strikers

By Lynne Dodson 

The first ever US MayWorks festival is being launched in Washington State including art, video, theater, workshops and lots of music. And this inaugural celebration is dedicated to and inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike and victory.

In 1912, Lawrence, Massachusetts textile workers launched a militant strike that popularized the slogan “Bread and Roses.” The workers, mostly immigrant, mostly women, organized and fought for higher wages, but also for dignity, respect, and better working conditions.

The pivotal strike called into sharp focus the problems, child labor, workplace safety, and an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth. Though they faced formidable, well-funded opposition, the strikers united workers across the northeast to win major victories. For bread, and for roses too.

For our first MayWorks celebration in Washington, we have the inspiration of the “Bread and Roses” strike to remind us that we are more than the jobs we do.

Our MayWorks commemoration of the Bread and Roses strike starts with a short film contest, “We do the work”. We’ll have a significant presence at the PNW Labor History Association Conference, theater and musical performances, an exhibition at the South Seattle Community College library, labor movie night, and a Bread & Roses float to be debuted at the May Day Immigrant Rights March in Seattle.

MayWorks culminates at the FolkLife Festival with the Bread & Roses theme reflected in exhibits from artists Beverly Naidus, David Bacon, John Stamets, and students; screenings of the winners of our film contest; workers talking about their experiences building Seattle Center 50 years ago; oral histories; a discussion of current struggles that bring the lessons of the Bread and Roses Strike to today; and Labor, Occupy, and Bread and Roses performances.

(Lynne Dodson is Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and a PSARA member.) 

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