LAWRENCE — A century ago, thousands of mostly immigrant workers in Lawrence textile mills came together despite barriers of language and custom for a nine-week strike that became a landmark in the history of labor, now known as the Bread and Roses Strike.
On Monday, descendants of strikers gathered with union members, city and state officials, and residents of Lawrence and surrounding communities to celebrate a monument to the strikers’ sacrifice.
Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence said not enough has changed in 100 years.
“Some of the same issues that were confronted by workers back then are still being confronted by workers today, although at different levels and with stronger voices of workers through unions,” Lantigua said.
The smell of french fries and funnel cakes filled the air as the monument was unveiled at Lawrence’s 28th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a Labor Day celebration focused on organized labor. Mixed among performers, pony rides, and face-painting tables were booths of unions for many trades.
The monument, a 15-ton boulder of Merrimack Valley granite, will bear two bronze plaques. The front plaque, unveiled Monday, depicts strikers marching down nearby Common Street, led by a figure waving an American flag.
Gloucester artist Daniel Altshuler based the design on a photo of the 1912 strikers, but took liberties to include Lawrence City Hall and its distinctive golden eagle finial in the background.
Altshuler, 47, said the challenges were to render figures in motion facing out from the plaque and to capture the spirit and character of the workers from 100 years past.
Carol Fernandez came from Cocoa, Fla., to attend the ceremony in memory of her grandmother’s first husband, Jonas Smolkas, a Lithuanian mill worker killed in October 1912 for wearing an Industrial Workers of the World button.
Her grandmother, Rozalia Yesukevitch, never spoke of Smolkas in her presence, but Fernandez believes the loss haunted her.
“I adored my grandmother, and I remember, while I would see her smile, I never, ever heard her laugh,” said Fernandez, 69.
Smolkas was one of three whose deaths were strike-related. Others were beaten by members of the state militia or by Harvard College students, who received course credit for helping intimidate workers, said Jonas Stundzia, cochair of the monument committee.
Stundzia said his grandmother Anne was among those struck by students, even though the strikers were following an order to disperse.
The student “took a club up and smacked her right in the back as they were moving away,” said Stundzia, 57.
Lawrence philanthropist Rosalyn Wood gave $10,000 to support the monument’s creation. She also happens to be the widow of Cornelius Ayer Wood Jr., grandson of mill owner William Wood.
Wood, 73, said her husband’s grandfather learned from the strike and embraced the movement for better pay and conditions. She was glad to see the workers finally getting their due.
“It should have been done years ago,” Wood said of the monument, “but the 100th anniversary of the strike is very appropriate.”