Bread and Roses

The film ‘Bread and Roses’ is a story about janitorial workers’ struggle to get better work conditions and the right to unionize in Los Angeles. Most of the janitorial workers are immigrant workers who have illegally entered the U.S from South America. They are viewed as commodities and expendables. They reluctantly continue to accept low wages and poor working conditions to make their living. However, they protest for higher wages and benefit packages, and the employers decide to meet the workers demands in the end.

The film’s title, “Bread and Roses”, comes from the textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912 which was led by large groups of female workers. They struggled and fought under the slogan ‘We want bread but we want roses, too!’ In the end, they got their salary increased. In the film, janitorial workers unite and march through the streets, shouting ‘We want bread but roses, too’, like the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence. No matter how hard they work for it, they do not get paid enough for their hard work. They struggle not only to get bread, which symbolizes the minimum requirements to survive, but also roses that symbolize human dignity. They have to put up with terrible work conditions such as low salaries, as low as 5.75$ an hour, no health insurance, paid holidays or sick leaves. All of this is because of their economical troubles and the treat to be exiled. However, they fight against the ruthless employers for fair wages and dignified conditions and also to restore their rights as a worker and a human through unity.

There are a huge number of immigrant workers in the U.S. Most of them are Hispanics, including Mexican people who have smuggled themselves into the U.S. Actually their life is terrible beyond imagination. Even though they have crossed the border at the risk of their own life to overcome poverty and seek better opportunities, they cannot escape from the cycle of low wages and being exploited by employers. In the film, janitorial workers won and got back their rights, however in reality it is difficult for immigrant workers to organize a labor union. They are forced to put up with poor working conditions that exploit them, under the constant threat of dismissal or exile. In the film, janitorial worker Maya asked Sam, a labor organizer, “What do you risk?” Because they should put more than everything they have to fight against unreasonable working conditions, mostly they accept the reality and give up their hopes to struggle. If they can eat the bread, they cannot have the rose; this is the reality they will have to face. To be able to eat bread, they will have to sell their roses.

Being guaranteed immigrant workers’ rights as a worker and a human is still far off. However, the film shows also hope that they can do it. Fighting for immigrant workers to get bread and roses will not stop.


by Jeawon Moon

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