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Bread and Roses - Defining Basic Needs

Unit 1 , Lesson 1

Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacy

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Bread and Roses - Defining Basic Needs

Document studies: 

Education and Culture

Excerpt about the ILGWU from LIFE Magazine

I.L.G.W.U. objectives lie in three fields, whose 1, 2, 3, both in importance and chronological sequence are 1) Economic; 2) Educational and Social; 3) Political.

The union’s clubrooms, its dances and its games fill a social gap which might elsewhere be filled by a church or Y.M.C.A.  The most spectacular manifestation of the social aspect is…I.L.G.W.U.’s million dollar Unity House.

…Yetta Henner lives in New York City, is poor, works as a finisher (she snips loose threads off rayon panties) in the Mitchel Schneider shop and belongs to I.L.G.W.U.’s Local 62.  So Yetta…exercises, learns, dances within her union.

Details
Excerpt from "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 43, 46, 49.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the Union has social and cultural objectives for its members that go beyond what happens in the workplace?
  2. How do these union-provided services benefit the union and how do they benefit workers?

Garment workers eating together before union-sponsored class

Garment workers eating together before union-sponsored class
Full image
Photograph by Hansel Mieth in "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 47.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you see in this picture? What do you notice about the people in the picture? (Don’t analyze, infer or describe. Just tell what you see.)
  2. Read the text in the box on the picture. Does this caption add to your understanding of the picture? If so, how?
  3. Look again at the picture. What else do you notice about what’s happening in this picture now that you’ve read the caption?

Garment workers rehearse a chorus for ILGWU's own theater, Labor Stage

Garment workers rehearse a chorus for ILGWU's own theater, Labor Stage
Full image
Caption Reads: Garment workers of 1938, no longer sodden machine-serfs, link their past and their present in this picture as they rehearse a chorus in the I.L.G.W.U.'s own theater, Labor Stage, before a photo-mural depicting the hero-leaders of union history. I.L.G.W.U.'s extracurricular program got national attention last winter when its still current revue Pins and Needles, performed entirely by members, became a major hit of the Broadway season. A good-natured satire on capitalism, the show has netted a neat capitalistic profit of $35,000.
Photograph by Hansel Mieth in "ILGWU: A Great and Good Union Points the Way for America's Labor Movement," LIFE Magazine, August 1, 1938, 45.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the union had its own theater and why would workers be involved in it?
  2. How are the values you identified in the first question demonstrated in the picture itself?
  3. How do the pictures of the past union leaders (behind the dancers) relate or connect to the rehearsal?

Social Psychology Lecture outside Unity House

Social Psychology Lecture outside Unity House
Full image
Photo taken in 1926. ILGWU Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think the ILGWU’s Unity House recreational facility sponsored talks on topics such as social psychology, as pictured here, or art history, for example?
  2. What do you notice about the people in the audience?
  3. What do you think the union members attending such lectures together in the Unity House setting brought back to their work lives from these experiences?

Poetry and Song

Ale Brider

All Brothers

 

And we are all brothers,

Oh, oh, all brothers,

And we sing happy songs, oh, oh, oh,

And we stick together, oh, oh, together,

Like no one else, oh, oh, oh.

 

[Chorus] La la la la…

All together, brothers and sisters, all.

 

And we are all sisters, oh, oh, all sisters,

Like Sara, Rebecca, Ruth and Esther, oh.

And we are all united, oh, oh, all united,

Whether we are many or few, oh, oh, oh.

[Chorus]

 

Ale Brider

 

Un mir zaynen ale brider, oy, oy, ale brider,

Un mir zingen freylekhe lider, oy, oy, oy.

Un mir haltn zikh in eynem,

Oy, oy, zikh in eynem,

Azelkhes iz nito bay keynem, oy, oy, oy.

 

[Chorus] Day day day day…

Ale tsuzamen, brider un shvester, ale.

 

Un mir zaynen ale shvester, oy oy, ale shvester,

Vi Sore, Riveke, Rut un Ester, oy, oy, oy.

Un mir zaynen alel eynik, oy, oy, ale eynik,

Tzi mir zaynen fil tsi veynik, oy, oy, oy.

[Chorus]

Details
"Ale Brider (We Are All Brothers)," Words by Morris Winchevsky, Translation Compiled by Willie Lockeretz and Linda Gritz, on A Besere Velt (A Better World), The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle.

Discussion Questions for "Ale Brider"

  1. What is the central message of this song?
  2. How does the sound, as opposed to the words, deliver this message?
  3. When do you think a song like this might have been sung?

Mayn Rue Plats

My Resting Place

 

Don’t look for me where myrtles grow,

You will not find me there, my beloved.

Where lives wither at the machines,

There is my resting place.

 

Don’t look for me where birds sing,

You will not find me there, my beloved.

A slave am I, where chains clang.

There is my resting place.

 

And if you love me with true love,

Then came to me, my good beloved,

And light up my gloomy heart,

And make sweet my resting place.

 

Mayn Rue Plats

 

Nit zukh mikh vu di mirtn grinen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.

Vu lebns velkn bay mashinen,

Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

 

Nit zukh mikh vu di feygl zingen,

Gefinst mikh dortn nit, mayn shats.

A shklaf bin ikh, vu keytn klingen,

Dortn iz mayn rue plats.

 

Un libstu mikh mit varer libe,

To kum tzu mir, mayn guter shats.

Un hayter oyf mayn harts, dos tribe,

Un makh mir zis mayn rue plats.

Details
"Mayn Rue Plats (My Resting Place)," Words by Morris Rosenfeld, Translation Compiled by Willie Lockeretz and Linda Gritz, on A Besere Velt (A Better World), The Yiddish Community Chorus of Boston Workmen's Circle.

Discussion Questions for "Mayn Rue Plats"

  1. How does the message of this song compare with that of Ale Brider?
  2. Why do you think the song’s sound is so sad?

Discussion Questions Comparing the Songs

  1. How might each of these songs speak to one’s experience as a worker?
  2. How might these two songs contribute to a worker’s feeling part of a larger, collective experience?

Context

The following lyrics are to the song “Bread and Roses.” The words were written by James Oppenheim and originally published in The American Magazine in December, 1911. Oppenheim’s poem was set to music by singer-songwriter Mimi Farina in 1974 and has been recorded by many artists since then.


 

"Bread and Roses" poem

 

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 go 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.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,

The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

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.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

Details
James Oppenheim, "Bread and Roses," The American Magazine, December, 1911.

Discussion Questions for "Bread and Roses"

  1. What does “Bread and Roses” mean in Oppenheim’s poem?
  2. What does “the rising of the women means the rising of the race” mean? 
  3. Why might women have been particularly drawn to this term, “bread and roses”?

Hats and Clothing

"The Return from Toil"

The Return from Toil
Full image
John Sloan, "The Return from Toil," The Masses, July, 1913, Front Cover. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Context

Written in 1925, Bread Givers is a novel about the Jewish immigrants who lived in the tenements of New York’s East Side and who worked in the garment industry.

Excerpt from "Bread Givers" beginning “You heartless thing!”

“You heartless thing!” cried Bessie. “No wonder Father named you ‘Empty-Head.’ Here you go to look for work, and you come back with pink roses for your doll face.”

Undisturbed by the bitter words, Mashah finished the last stitch and then hung up her hat carefully over the door.

“I’m going to hear the free music in the park tonight,” she laughed to herself, with the pleasure before her, “and these pink roses on my hat to match out my pink calico will make me look just like the picture on the magazine cover.”

Bessie rushed over to Mashah’s fancy pink hat as if to tear it to pieces, but instead, she tore her own old hat from her head, flung it on the floor, and kicked it under the stove.

Mashah pushed up her shoulders and turned back to the mirror, taking the hairpins carefully from her long golden hair and fixing it in different ways. “It ain’t my fault if the shops are closed. If I take my lunch money for something pretty that I got to have, it don’t hurt you none.”

Details
Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers, (New York: Persea Books, 1925), 3.

Excerpt on hats from Clara Lemlich article about 1909 strike

"Sometimes a girl has a new hat. It is never much to look at because it never costs more than fifty cents, but it's pretty sure to be spoiled after it's been at the shop. There are no dressing rooms for the girls in the shops, no place to hang a hat where it will not be spoiled by the end of the day. We’re human, all of us girls, and we’re young. We like new hats as well as any other young women. Why shouldn’t we? And if one of us gets a new one, even if it hasn’t cost more than 50 cents, that means that we have gone for weeks on two-cent lunches—dry cakes and nothing else."

Details
“Leader Tells Why 40,000 Girls Struck," New York Evening Journal, November 26, 1909, 3. Quoted in Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 8, 146-147.

Excerpt about clothing from Sadie Frowne article, "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl"

Some of the women blame me very much because I spend so much money on clothes. They say that instead of a dollar a week I ought not to spend more than 25 cents a week on clothes, and that I should save the rest. But a girl must have clothes if she is to go into high society at Ulmer Park or Coney Island or to the theatre. Those who blame me are the old country people who have old-fashioned notions, but the people who have been here a long time know better. A girl who does not dress well is stuck in a corner, even if she is pretty, and Aunt Fanny says that I do just right to put on plenty of style.

Details
Sadie Frowne, Excerpt from "The Story of a Sweatshop Girl," Independent 54, (September 25, 1902), 2279-2282. Found in Nancy F. Cott, et al, eds., Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, Second Edition (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996), 426-32.

Women Strikers Selling Newspapers for a Living

Women Strikers Selling Newspapers for a Living
Full image
Photograph from the George Grantham Bain Collection documenting women strikers selling newspapers during the New York shirt waist workers strike. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph 3a49621.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you notice about the illustration of the working girls on the cover of The Masses? What conclusions can you draw about the women selling newspapers in the photograph? What do you think they are trying to say about themselves through their clothing?
  2. What kinds of sacrifices did the character Mashah in Bread Givers, Clara Lemlich, and Sadie Frowne describe making when these working women chose to buy clothing and hat decorations for themselves? Why do you think they were willing to make these sacrifices?
  3. How were Mashah and Sadie Frowne perceived by others because of their clothes buying?
  4. What is the real issue behind Clara Lemlich’s demand that the working girls and women have a decent place to hang their hats at work?

Traditional Jewish Sources

Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14-15

יד לֹא-תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מֵאַחֶיךָ, אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. טו בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא-תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי עָנִי הוּא, וְאֵלָיו, הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ; וְלֹא-יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.

14 Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. 15 Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.

Details
As quoted/translated by Rabbi Jill Jacobs.

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

ז,א השוכר את הפועלים, ואמר להם להשכים ולהעריב--מקום שנהגו שלא להשכים ושלא להעריב, אינו יכול לכופן; מקום שנהגו לזון, יזון; לספק במתיקה, יספק: הכול כמנהג המדינה. מעשה ברבי יוחנן בן מתיה שאמר לבנו, צא ושכור לנו פועלים, ופסק עימהם מזונות. וכשבא אצל אביו, אמר לו, אפילו את עושה להם כסעודת שלמה בשעתה, לא יצאת ידי חובתך, שהם בני אברהם יצחק ויעקוב; אלא עד שלא יתחילו במלאכה, צא ואמור להם, על מנת שאין לכם אלא פת וקטנית בלבד. רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר, לא היה צריך לומר, אלא הכול כמנהג המדינה.

One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late—in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land [minhag hamakom].

A story about Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya, who told his son, “Go, hire us workers.” His son went and promised them food (without specifying what kind, or how much). When he returned, his father said to him, “My son! Even if you gave them a feast like that of King Solomon, you would not have fulfilled your obligation toward them, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, as they have not yet begun to work, go back and say to them that their employment is conditional on their not demanding more than bread and vegetables.” Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “It is not necessary to make such a stipulation. Everything goes according to the custom of the place.”

Details
As quoted/translated in Jill Jacobs, There Shall Be No Needy Teacher's Guide. (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), 29.

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21

אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח.

Where there is no flour, there is no Torah; where there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Details
Translation from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2.

Discussion Questions

  1. Paraphrase the excerpts.
  2. Discuss and agree upon the main points of each excerpt.
  3. Describe the relationship between worker and boss or employer in the excerpts from Deuteronomy and the Mishnah from Bava Metzia.
  4. What is implied about Torah by tying “flour” to it? Why might the two be interdependent? What does work have to do with this?
  5. What do the Torah and the Rabbinic Sages teach us about the meaning of work?

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Living the Legacy - Lesson: Bread and Roses - Defining Basic Needs." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/labor/bread-and-roses-defining-basic-needs>.