The poem that inspired a movement

December 1, 2018

On December 1, 1911, The American Magazine published a poem with the title “Bread and Roses” for the very first time. Over the next few years, it would become an anthem of the trade union movement, linked to the struggle for social justice and equality.

Now a favourite anthem of the labour movement around the world, James Oppenheim was inspired to write the poem by a slogan “Bread for all, and Roses, too”. When his poem was published again in 1912, the slogan was attributed to women trade unionists – and the association stuck.

Oppenheim’s poem was also associated with the 1912 Lawrence textile strike, often referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Led by immigrant women workers, the strike developed new tactics that have become standard procedures in labour disputes, among them the moving picket line to get around loitering charges.

It received a new lease on life with the resurgence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and the interest in the role played by women in trade union history. In 1974, Mimi Fariña composed the now familiar tune that has become a standard for women in the labour movement.

In Canada, the slogan was reborn as the theme of the “Bread and Roses March” and the “World March of Women” that it inspired.

The first Bread and Roses March, an initiative of the Fédération des femmes du Québec, began on 26 May 1995. Over the course of 10 days, more than 800 Québécoise demonstrators set off from Montréal, Longueuil and Rivière-du-Loup and converged on Québec City with nine demands of the government to combat poverty.

The theme song of the march, Du pain et des roses, composed by Hélène Pedneault and Marie-Claire Séguin remains an anthem of the labour movements of Quebec and Canada.
BREAD AND ROSES

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we come marching, marching, we battle too, for men,
For they are in the struggle and together we shall win.
Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses.

As we come marching, marching, un-numbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their trudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we. fight for, but we fight for roses, too.

As we go marching, marching, we’re standing proud and tall.
The rising of the women means the rising of us all.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories, bread and roses, bread and roses.

—–

Related Articles

Canada’s unions mark National Indigenous Peoples Day by calling for further action towards reconciliation

This National Indigenous Peoples Day, Canada’s unions say action on reconciliation must become an urgent national priority. Earlier this month, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) released its final report, including 231 Calls for Justice to address the alarming rate of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. To date, no implementation plans…
Read More

Canada’s unions stand with locked out steelworkers in Quebec

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) fully supports the United Steelworkers (USW) complaint against the Government of Quebec for violating international labour laws and severely impeding the rights of workers. One thousand members of USW have been locked out of their workplace at an aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Quebec for the past 17 months. Over the spring of 2019, Quebec’s Premier François…
Read More

Canada’s unions play key role in ILO negotiations on addressing violence at work

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Representatives from labour, governments, and employers are meeting this month as part of the 108th International Labour Conference in Geneva. Marie Clarke Walker, Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), serves as the Worker Spokesperson and will continue as a key leader in the effort to strengthen obligations…
Read More