Songs of the Unions
The power of the Unions back in the days of the labor movement came from the solidarity of the organization of the workers as they stood strong for their rights. According to Joe Glazer, the lyrics had to be simple and repetitive to make an impact. While on the picket lines, workers would generally sing only a few verses of the song and many repeats of the chorus sung to a recognizable tune. The chorus for this song is borrowed from Glory, Glory Hallelujah. With its six verses, it lives on in the recordings of Pete Seeger, Utah Phillips, Anne Feeney, Ella Jenkins
The Death of Harry Simms (written by Aunt Molly Jackson and Jim Garland) This song tells the true story about Harry Simms who was a young union organizer instrumental in forming the National Mine Workers union. His life ended while he was bringing food and clothing to the striking Brush Creek miners near in Pineville, KY. The tune was originally popularized by Pete Seeger and can be found on the Smithsonian Folkways release "American Industrial Ballads." The songs tradition is being carried on by Pete's grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger. Notice the fine fiddling from Laura Cortese.
The Death of Harry Simms
Which Side are You On (written by Florence Reece)
This tune represents one of the most embittered struggles in the unionization of the mines workers in Harlan County, KY in the 1930s. Lasting a decade, this conflict between labor and the company was characterized by bloody violence and the loss of 13 mine workers lives. Written by Florence Reece, Which Side are you On has become an anthem for the mine workers and has been recorded by many artists including Florence Reece herself. Ani Defranco, Natalie Merchant, Pete Seeger, Utah Phillips, Drop Kick Murphy, and Hazel Dickens also recorded versions of this song.
This short historical trailer from the Movie Harlan County USA depicts the struggles of the mine workers of Harlan County, KY A brief clip from Florence Reece is featured in this trailer. Harlan Country USA trailer
You can hear Florence sing this song here: Which Side are You On
Casey Jones – The Union Scab - (written by Joe Hill – 1912)
Casey Jones has become a legend for his heroic efforts in trying to stop his train from colliding with a stalled train on the tracks. Known for his prolific song writing on behalf of the union labors across most industries, Joe Hill wrote about Casey Jones from a different perspective. This tune portrays Casey Jone's loyalty to the company on the SP Freight Railway and labels him has a union scab. The lyrics are put to the traditional Casey Jones tune and were recorded by Pete Seeger and Utah Phillips.
Many of the union and labor songs are memorialized in the IWW Little Red Songbook.
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