Happy Labor Day!
Not much sums up more beautifully and concisely what class struggle is all about than Solidarity Forever, the classic tune penned in 1915 by IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) member Ralph Chaplin, sung at union and political gatherings worldwide and recorded by artists from Peter Seger to Billy Bragg to Joe Glazer to Utah Phillips to Leonard Cohen.
In 1915 we were in the middle of the great labor movement that culminated in the New Deal legislation that encapsulated most of labor's demands in programs like Social Security and eventually Medicare and removed most of the legal barriers to union organizing, and resulted in the American working class gaining the highest standard of living in the history of the world. It was a long, brutal struggle. That was the so-called "Gilded Age" when wealth disparity was tremendous. (We are now back to the same degree of wealth disparity, according to figures from the IRS and the Federal Reserve, thanks to 30 years of Reaganomics and to "New Democrats" like Bill Clinton and Barak Obama).
The struggle, which initially resulted in things like the eight hour day and child labor laws, was resisted viciously by Capital at every step. There were many massacres of striking workers at the hands of national guards -- Capitalists could count on most governors, and even the president in cases, to help them break strikes -- and at the hands of private militias such as The Pinkerton Agency, originally begun as a private strike breaking army for hire.
One such massacre took place just up the road at Ludlow, CO, where United Mine Workers striking a mine in nearby Trinidad had an encampment. The Colorado National Guard lined up along a ridge, set the camp on fire, and shot men, women and children as they fled their burning tents. There's a little sign along I-25 and a monument there today. Take the first exit after you come up out of Tridinad going north.
American workers now do not know this history and sadly are acting as their own Pinkertons, and our standard of living, which was once the envy of the world and for which immigrants risked their lives to have a part of, is on it's way down.
The Nation magazine has assembled ten music videos of their choices for the top ten labor songs of all time, and leading the list is Pete Seger's rendering of Solidarity Forever. The list includes some artists you might not automatically think of as supporters of labor.
Give a listen, and Happy Labor Day.
Lyrics to Solidarity Forever
When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
But the union makes us strong
Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!
It is we who plowed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong