In the harsh winter of 1912, 20,000 textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts struck to protest a cut in wages that were already too low. Bill Hayward recalls,
“It was a wonderful strike, the most significant strike, the greatest strike that has ever been carried on in this country or any other country. And the most significant part of that strike was that it was a democracy. The strikers had a committee of 56, representing 27 different languages. The boss would have to see all the committee to do any business with them.”
On one demonstration, a striker’s placard proclaimed, “We want bread and roses too.” This sign inspired the song Bread and Roses, with its haunting line,
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread and give us roses!
The cry for bread is even more urgent today. Over the past five years, the U.S. economy has been booming for the well-off, while the number of hungry Americans continues to rise. The Department of Agriculture reports that 12 percent of Americans – some 35 million people – went hungry for part of 2005 because they could not afford food on a regular basis.
Malnutrition is more common than hunger. Every year, about 3,000 infants in the U.S. suffer life-threatening malformations of the spine and brain due to folic acid deficiency. Folic acid is a vitamin commonly found in dried beans, leafy green vegetables, and orange juice. Since 1998, all U.S. cereal products have been fortified with folic acid. Nevertheless, by 2005, only 39 percent of White women, 26 percent of Black women, and 28 percent of Hispanic women were getting enough folic acid to reduce half of all folic-acid-deficient birth defects.
As I pondered these shocking statistics, I read an article in Popular Science describing how perfect 10-carat diamonds can be grown in a laboratory in one day. These human-made diamonds are identical to the mined variety, but without the flaws. No one would ever have to work in a diamond mine again.
There is no lack of bread in the world and no shortage of roses. There could even be diamonds for all. However, the capitalist class compel the majority of humanity to live in soul-sucking deprivation. Enough is enough. It’s time to end the division of humanity into have-lots and have-nots. As the song concludes,
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!