LAWRENCE — Hundreds of people gathered Monday at Campagnone Common for the Bread & Roses Heritage Festival, including a few dozen who attended a ceremony at the 1912 Strikers’ Monument where they received a brief history lesson on why they had the day off from work.
“If it wasn’t for these folks, we wouldn’t have a Labor Day, we wouldn’t have a weekend,” said David Meehan, co-chair of the Strikers’ Monument Committee.
The monument stands in remembrance of the textile strike in Lawrence in 1912 known as the Bread and Roses Strike. The nine-week strike began in January when thousands of workers walked out of the city’s factories because of a pay cut of 32 cents a week when workers’ hours were reduced by law.
The festival, now in its 35th year, celebrates those strikers along with the 100th anniversary of another strike in 1919.
“It’s the sister strike of 1912,” said Jonas Stundzia, co-chair of the monument committee. “It was to sure up hours and concentrated on better working conditions. The 1919 strike was more vicious, more violent, and much longer at 16 weeks.”
He explained that most strikes occurred in the winter and that was particularly hard for workers who gave up their paycheck to strike when there was the added expense of heating a home.
Stundzia talked about that strike before over a dozen people at the Lawrence History Live! tent and told how Lithuanian immigrants played the largest role.
“We appreciate that’s where it (the labor movement) started and we appreciate the strong history,” said Ann McGinty of North Andover, standing near the food trucks at the celebration.
“This (festival) honors those people from more than 100 years ago,” she said. “But what really gets me out here is the food and music. There’s always something new to try and listen to.”
There were eight musical acts and four performance groups on stages across the common. A handful of speakers gave talks about the event and a youth-led documentary film called “The Boiler Project” was shown.
While listening to the Afro-punk group TMP Empire, the Peguero family was happy to have the chance to hear something new.
“It’s a tradition that we have every year to see all the cultures through performances and food,” Claritza Peguero said. “And you start seeing the same people every year, building those relationships and it’s like a mini family reunion.”
Her husband, Hector, agreed, adding that they don’t typically know the groups performing, but it’s nice to have something new. Their 8-year-old son, Emmanuel, also liked the opportunity to dance to new beats, she said.