Bread and Roses introduced and sung by Utah Phillips.
May Day—the real International Labor Day is sort of a holy day for me and millions of others who come out of the union movement, socialist, Marxist, anarchist, and immigrant justice movements. The sacrifices working people are making during the world-wide Coronavirus pandemic health care workers, first responders of all types, and as vital parts of our strained food chain and social infrastructure remind us of the deep connections of solidarity even if we cannot be on the streets as usual. So do the demands that governments and employers provide ample personal protective equipment (PPE) and safe, sanitary working conditions. And don’t forget the support of working families thrown into deep distress by unemployment—now officially higher than the depths of the Great Depression—reduced hours and lost tips.
There are many stirring anthems we could share today—The International, the song of the international socialist and communist movements; Ralph Chaplain’s Solidarity Forever, the IWW song that is now the theme of the American Labor Movement; Talking Union and Union Maid from the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others; and Which Side Are You On out of the Harlan County, Kentucky coal mining wars.
Utah Phillips--a legendary working class bard.
My old and dear friend and Fellow Worker the late Utah Philips sang all of them along with plenty of storytelling putting them in context. He was a labor bard in the tradition of Joe Hill, Guthrie and Seeger. He saw his music and yarns as lessons from the elders to inspire new generations of rebels and activists. Over nearly 50 years he touched and inspired many lives, myself included.
Today we will share Bread and Roses a poem by James Oppenheim which was set to music by Caroline Kohlsaat in 1917. During the great 1912 IWW Lawrence Textile strike the multi-ethnic mostly women strikers adopted signs demanding Bread and Roses. The song went on to become both a labor and a feminist anthem. At the Woodstock Festival in 1969 Joan Baez sang a version with a new melody by her sister Mimi Frariña which is also now widely sung.
But we will stick with the original as told and sung by Utah Phillips. He also recorded a version with indie singer/songwriter Ani diFranco.