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We Just Come to Work Here

November 29, 2009

(Bread and Raises album cover)

A large part of the “modern” labor movement and today’s unionization can be attributed to woman’s rights and the second wave of feminism in the 1960’s, ’70s and ’80s. As women rose against the ideals of femininity and domesticity that had constrained them for so many centuries, they entered the striking work force with gusto. Songs like I’m Gonna Be An Engineer, by Peggy Seeger spoke to the endless possibilities ahead for women in traditionally make roles. There was also a resurgence of the old Suffrage songs like Bread and Roses which served the new purposes of working just as it had served the purposes of the first wave of feminists. Bread and Roses was sung by all of the leading feminist musicians including Peggy Seeger, Bobbie McGee, and Anne Feeney.

As we come 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 women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses! (McGee, Bread and Raises, track 2)

These old and new songs powered the women’s rights movements just as old union songs powered the Knights of Labor and other poor factory workers. Many of these songs, Bread and Roses in particular, are still circulated today and will be the inspirational driving force behind unions for the strikes to come.

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