This paper traces the history of the song “Bread and Roses” to examine labor culture and the role of song in the labor movement. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, “Bread and Roses” was included in several of the first generation song books produced by unions that reflected an expansive and inclusive labor culture closely connected with the Left. With the ascendance of business unionism and the blacklisting of the Left after the war, labor culture took a heavy blow, and labor songbooks became skeletons of the full-bodied versions they had once been. Unions began to see singing not as part of the process of social change but as a vehicle to bring people together, and songs such as “Bread and Roses” and other more class-based songs were jettisoned in favor of a few labor standards and American sing-along songs. “Bread and Roses” was born anew to embody a central concept in the women’s movement and rode the wave of new music, art, and film that were part of new social movements and new constituencies that challenged business unionism and reshaped union culture in the 1980s.
“Bread and Roses”: The Evolution of a Song, Labor Songbooks, and Union Culture
TOM JURAVICH is a professor of labor studies and sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who writes regularly about work and the labor process, labor and working-class culture, and strategic research and campaigns. He is the author of Commonwealth of Toil (1996), Ravenswood (1999), and Altar of the Bottom Line (2009) and coeditor of Labor in the Time of Trump (2020). Also a singer and songwriter, Juravich’s new melody and arrangement for “Bread and Roses” appears on the Healy and Juravich CD Tangled in Our Dreams (2006).
Tom Juravich; “Bread and Roses”: The Evolution of a Song, Labor Songbooks, and Union Culture. Labor 1 May 2020; 17 (2): 81–100. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-8114769
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