- Bread and Roses Or "When Will It Ever End?"
"Even during these tough fiscal times, we must recognize the important role education plays in preparing California's children for the competitive environment of the 21st century," Wilson said.
The governor, giving no details, suggested he will propose that welfare payments be cut to provide more money for kindergarten-through-high school education programs.1
At the end of May 1988, I gave the Presidential Address at the Fifteenth Annual Conference of the Children's Literature Association sponsored by the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.2 It was my last act as ChLA President after a rather stormy year in the Association, and some of the immediate concerns of the Association were addressed in a portion of the speech omitted here. It was also a national election year, and one in which, I imply here, we all had a stake, as we do in 1992. I have not upwardly revised the statistics on poverty and homelessness, but the general domestic welfare of this country has clearly not been helped by Bush's points-of-light philosophy. If we—who know the difference between ketchup and vegetables in a school lunch program—do not attempt to do something to turn around this reign of callousness, we are part of the problem. That is why I agreed to have this only slightly revised speech included in the first issue of The Lion and the Unicorn edited by Louisa Smith and Jack Zipes.
Friends and fellow lovers of children's literature, the title of my talk today is "Elread and Roses." For those of you to whom that phrase is as yet unknown, I hope to make clear not only why I am using it here, but also its fame, or notoriety (depending on your point of view) in American history in general, as well as in labor history. As you shall see, given the standard curriculum, you are unlikely to have learned about bread and roses in school.
Presidential addresses usually begin with either a funny or an inspirational [End Page 110] story. I am going to begin with a true and inspirational story rather than a joke.
This story is told admirably by Milton Meltzer, one of the best-known writers of nonfiction for children. I will be quoting liberally from his book, which like most of Meltzer's works, is written for both adults and children. The story begins on Friday, January 12, 1912, when the workers—men, women, and children—struck the textile mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a town in which no stockholder in these mills could bear to live.
As Meltzer notes, although the conditions in the mills were ghastly and the wages already incredibly low, "The immediate cause of the strike was a wage cut." He continues,
A state law had just been passed reducing the hours of women and children from 56 to 54 a week. The employers had strongly opposed it because over half of the 40,000 workers in the woolen and cotton mills were in these categories. Now they cut wages proportionately, and at the same time speeded up the machines so that for 54 hours at 54 hours' pay they got the same output they used to get in 56 hours at 56 hours' pay.(173)
The Industrial Workers of the World, known familiarly as the Wobblies, was the union to organize this strike. The Wobblies were known for organizing not just the craft workers, but workers in all industrial categories, skilled and unskilled; they spoke to the many immigrants in their own original languages. This important feature of the strike managed to create in the strikers an almost religious fervor. Ray Stannard Baker, a famous muckraker, reported on this aspect of the strike:
"It is the first strike I ever saw which sang. I shall not soon forget the curious lift, the strange sudden fire of the mingled nationalities at the strike meetings when they broke into the universal language of song. And not only at the meetings did they sing, but at the soup houses and in the streets."(181)
This strike was clearly a family affair...