Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day

For most, today is nothing more than a holiday, but like most holidays, we rarely actually consider the origins or meanings. Its unfortunate, but most people take the labor movement and the sacrifices made for granted. Labor day in most of the world is celebrated on May 1, or May Day, as it is commonly known. The actual origin of the celebration is based on the eight hour work movement. Various other countries have their own origins, but all honor the economic and social progresses made by labor movements worldwide. Today, at least in the U.S., what the members and organizers or labor parties have achieve go widely overlooked and unions have been villianized by corporatists and others more concerned with the market or the bottom line than the lives and well being of workers.

The economic hardships of the Great Depression fed into a growing form of protest folk music. Artists like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lee Hays began traveling around the country and performing. Woody was very nomadic, living the life of the songs he wrote. He often played at pro-union rallies and events. The themes of Woody's music changed with his life experiences and I urge everyone to read his autobiography, "Bound for Glory." PBS aired a documentary on the life of Woody last year that was pretty thorough and definitely work watching if you come across it sometime. Blood, sweat, & lives have been shed in the history of labor unions and it is sad to see the power and organization of labor unions in the U.S. continue to diminish.

Support of unions and the common workers were prevalent themes of these musicians. Many of today's musicians were heavily influenced by the active participation and themes of their predecessors, including the extremely outspoken, Billy Bragg. Even the work of commercial artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are rooted in folk music, as actualized in last years, "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions."

I could write pages upon pages on this subject, but that would be counterproductive on a blog so I'll finish by saying, while the songs below may have been recorded as much as 70 years apart, the common themes of social and economic progress as well as solidarity of workers. I realize that this post probably won't be very popular, but these songs are important and a piece of this nation's history. Every single worker in this country who answers to another owes a serious debt of gratitude to the people who came before us and made countless sacrifices during labor negotiations and strikes. We also owe a debt to the early artists that would entertain and embolden the workers with their songs.

Woody Guthrie - Going Down That Road Feeling Bad
Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land
Pete Seeger - Talking Union
Pete Seeger - Joe Hill
Bob Dylan - Maggie's Farm
Phil Ochs - Bound for Glory
Phil Ochs - Links on the Chain
Uncle Tupelo - Coalminers
Billy Bragg - Which Side are You On
Billy Bragg - There is Power in a Union
Bruce Springsteen - The Ghost of Tom Joad
Bruce Springsteen - John Henry


Anonymous said...

Thank you soo much for this! Pete Seeger is one of my heroes and it's such a shame that Americans today don't even remember him.

Yellow Dog said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it and I'm glad that there are a few who remember some of the true heroes.

Dan said...

Woody Guthrie is such an under appreciated singer, glad to see a post including him.