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Labor Day: A Reminder of Suffrage, Civil Rights and Education

It was 100 years ago this year that the historic “Bread and Roses” labor strike by workers in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts set off nationwide attention and Congressional hearings about the rights of workers. While it was one of many localized labor movements, it catalyzed something larger and it started here in Massachusetts.

Lawrence city officials, siding with the mill owners, used brutal force against the strikers, half of which were women and included children. The 1912 strike, where women played an especially important role in organizing protests and education efforts, further spurred the women’s suffrage movement, leading eight years later to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the right of women to vote and run for office—a full 42 years after that Amendment was first introduced to the Congress in 1878.

In 1920, just 92 years ago, women across the United States finally were able to exercise their full citizenship and vote. It is hard to imagine that women who are among us today lived at a time when they could not vote. Even more stunning is that our African American brothers and sisters were not secure in their right until 1964’s Civil Rights Act, despite the 15th Amendment of 1870, which prohibited denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The right to vote and the right to work go hand in hand. And the Centennial of the Bread and Roses strike is a stark reminder for us in 2012 that political leaders must include all citizens in America’s economic turnaround.

This Labor Day, I want to honor every mom and dad who works so hard to give their children opportunities they never had. I want to salute every immigrant who left their homeland and extended families to come to America for the chance to work hard, gain economic security, and the pride that comes from achievement.

God bless you and America this Labor Day.

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