The first time I heard the song ‘Bread and Roses’, it was 2014, and I’d just sobbed my way through the movie, ‘Pride’ (not for the last time). The film is based on the true story of how the 1984 British Miner’s Strike ravaged the Welsh mining industry, and how a ragtag group of Lesbian and Gay activists took up their cause and began to raise money on their behalf. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community and self-professed cry baby, the story really stuck with me, as did a certain song that would inevitably send me down a Wikipedia hole.
Based on a phrase coined in 1911 by American Suffragette Helen Todd, the song ‘Bread and Roses,’ called for the arts to be accessible to all, not just the wealthy or privileged. It was a rallying cry that resonated with many people at the time and was soon taken up by trade unionists as well, most notably by Rose Schneiderman in 1912.
After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, in which 146 works were killed, Trade Unionist member and founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Rose Schneiderman made reference to Helen Todd’s remark saying,
“What the woman who labours wants is the right to live, not simply exist – the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”
After Rishi Sunak’s misguided ad campaign in October 2020, which urged creatives to retrain in other areas, I felt that the sentiment of ‘Bread and Roses’ was still very much relevant in the 21st century. Seven years later, and with the words were still stuck in my head, I decided it was time to make some art about it.