Audio and Lyrics

Welcome To Labor Land – Audio

Welcome To Labor Land – Lyrics

  1. Eisenhower Blues
  2. Union Fights The Battle Of Freedom
  3. The Company Store
  4. In Union Lies Our Strength / Good News
  5. The Dying Miner
  6. New Working on the Projects Blues / 304 Blues
  7. Stockyard Blues
  8. Our Battle Song
  9. Eight Hour Song
  10. The Maud Wreck
  11. The Victory
  12. Memorial Day Massacre
  13. Remember Virden!
  14. Solidarity Forever

 

Eisenhower Blues
[ J.B. Lenoir, Chicago, 1954 ]

Born in Mississippi in 1929, J.B. Lenoir came to Chicago in 1949 and
began recording for labels like Chess and Parrot in the 1950s.  After
suffering a heart attack in 1966, he died at age 37 in Urbana, IL.  Lenoir
recorded this song in 1954, the first of many protest songs he recorded.
Apparently the FBI didn’t find the song to their liking.  This was the
era of
Eisenhower, McCarthy, Republican domination and powerful anti-labor
sentiments.   Lenoir got himself an FBI file!
 
Hey everybody I was talkin’ to you
I ain’t jivin’, this is the natural truth
Mm, mm mm, I got the Eisenhower blues.
Thinkin’ ’bout you and me, what on earth we gonna do?
My pocket’s empty, my fun is gone
The way things look, I won’t be here long
Mm, mm, mm, I got the Eisenhower blues…
Take all my money, to pay the tax
I’m givin’ you people, the natural facts
I’m only tellin’ you, my belief
The way things are going, I’ll be on relief
Mm, mm, mm, I got the Eisenhower blues…
Ain’t got a dime, ain’t got a cent
Don’t have no money, to pay my rent
My baby needs some clothes, she needs her shoes
Peoples I don’t know, what I’m gonna do
Mm, mm, mm, I got the Eisenhower blues…

Union Fights the Battle of Freedom
[ Anonymous, Chicago, 1938 ]

The African American chorus of Local 76 of the International Ladies
Garment Workers sang this song.  The only source I’ve seen on the song
says it was "made up" during a strike by the Newspaper Guild in 1938.
Most of you will recognize the tune "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho."
 
Chorus:
The union fights the battle of freedom
Freedom, freedom
The union fights the battle of freedom
And the boss comes tumbling down.
Good morning brother worker,
O tell me where you’re bound.
O tell me what you’re striking for
And tell me what you’ve found.
We’re fighting for a contract,
For recognition too.
We know we’ll win that contract
With the proper help from you.
We find the public’s with us,
We find they’re on our side.
We hear a mighty chorus
That fills our hearts with pride.
We’ve told you all our story,
We’ve told you where we stand.
You can help us win the glory
For our striking union band.

The Company Store
[ Lyrics, Issac Hanna, Englewood, IL , 1895 / Music, Bucky Halker ]

Company stores formed one more part of the coal operator’s efforts to control
miners’ lives and keep them tied to the company.   Merle Travis came
from a
coal mining town and wrote the famous hit song "Sixteen Tons" for
Tennessee
Ernie Ford in the 1950s, but coal-miner writers like Issac Hanna were already
writing powerful indictments of the system in the 19th century.
 
The lot of the miner,
At best, is quite hard;
We work for good money,
Get paid with a card;
We scarcely can live,
And not a cent more,
Since we’re paid off in checks
On the company store.
The coal operators
Are growing apace,
They are making their millions
By grinding our face;
Unto their high prices
The people pay toll,
While they pay fifty cents
For mining their coal.
They keep cutting our wages,
Time after time;
Where we once had a dollar,
We now have a dime;
While our souls are near famished,
And our bodies are sore,
We are paid off in checks,
On the company store.
We sign then a contract,
As agreed between men;
Though it holds us like slaves,
It never holds them;
And when they’ve exhausted
The old contract score,
They capped the climax
With the company store.
But while I am anxious
Our case to make plain,
Sore cramped are my fingers
Uncertain my pen,
My paper’s exhausted
I cannot write more,
For paper comes high
At the company store.

In Union Lies Our Strength / Good News
[ Lyrics, William Creech, Chicago, 1880 / Music, Bucky Halker ]

William Creech was one of many well-known iron molder poets in the United
States during this period.   Creech regularly appeared at labor gatherings
in
Chicago to present his work.   Labor papers often printed his
latest poems.
I adapted two of his poems in creating this song.
 
Come brothers and dear sisters,
And listen to my rhyme
About the Illinois boys,
Who beats the bosses fine.
The victory of the union
Fills all our hearts with cheer,
It shows in Union there is strength
If we will persevere.
‘Twas in the month of April,
The bosses tried our strength
To break up our fair union,
They cut us ten percent.
For sixteen weeks they tried their best,
The wolf was at our door
We showed ’em we were Union men,
Both now and evermore.
Come workers be united
Stand to-gether one for all
For in Union lies our strength
Divided we must fall.
The "scabs" had all to take a walk
They’re reaping what they sowed,
The dirty "piles" must tramp for miles,
Their shoes well know the road.
If they would act a manly part,
All strikes would die away;
They’d have to deal with us as men,
We’d all have better pay.
Success to every Union,
No matter where they be;
They are the poor man’s hope and friend,
They fight for Liberty.
Our cause is one throughout the world
In Russia, France, and all;
Keep the ball a-rolling,
That good old Union Ball!

The Dying Miner
[ Woody Guthrie, Ft. Scott, IL, 1947 ]

The Centralia disaster of March 1947 resulted from relaxed safety
standards after WWII and killed 111 men.   Investigations showed
that the mining companies and the government cynically disregarded
miners’ safety.   I recorded another song about the disaster on my
last
CD, so I decided to add my rendition of Woody Guthrie’s powerful
ballad to this recording.   Guthrie lived near Centralia in 1947.
  He’d
been drafted after WWII and sent to Ft. Scott.
 
It happened an hour ago;
Way down in this tunnel of coal;
This gas caught ta fire, from somebody’s lamp;
And the miners are choking in smoke.
Goodbye to you, Honey, Little Dicky;
Goodbye to my wife that I love;
Most all of these miners won’t be coming home
Tonight when that work whistle blows.
Chorus:
Dear sister and brother, Goodbye;
Dear mother and father, Goodbye;
My fingers are weak and I cannot write;
Goodbye, Centralia, Goodbye.
It looks like the end for me
And for all of my buddies I see;
We’re all writing letters on a slaterock wall;
Please carry my word to my wife.
I found a little place in the air;
I crawled and drug myself here;
But the smoke’s getting bad, and the fumes coming in;
This gas is burning my eyes.
Forgive me for things I’ve done wrong;
I love you lots more than you know;
When tonight’s whistle blows and I don’t come home,
Do all that you can to help Mom.
I can hear the moans and groans
Of more than a hundred good men;
Just work and fight and try to see
That this mine does not cave in again.
My eyes are gone blind in these fumes;
Now, it sounds like the men are all gone.
Work hard and fight and fix up this mine
So the fires can’t kill daddies no more.

New Working on the Projects Blues / 304 Blues
[ Lyrics & Music, Peetie Wheatstraw, East St. Louis, IL, 1937 & 1938
]

Guitarist and vocalist Peetie Wheatstraw, "the Devil’s Son in Law,"
"the High
Sheriff from Hell," wrote these haunting lyrics while living in East St.
Louis.
Wheatstraw had migrated to the city from Cotton Plant, Arkansas in the 1920s
and became a blues star during the 1930s.   That didn’t mean he had
much
money.   Like many unemployed black and white workers, he found
work on
New Deal construction "projects" for the WPA, CWA and PWA.
  If
a 304 slip
appeared with your paycheck that meant you had been laid-off the project.   I
took lyrics from two similar Wheatstraw songs for this cut and let the melody
go wherever it wanted to go!
 
Workin’ on the projects
What a scared man you know
Workin’ on the projects
What a scared man you know
Every time I look around
Someone’s getting the 3-0-4
Workin’ on the projects
Got a bunch of bills to pay
Workin’ on the projects
Got a bunch of bills to pay
First time I got my 304
Collector took my furniture away
When I was workin’ on the projects
I drank my good whiskey, beer and wine
When I was workin’ on the projects
I drank my good whiskey, beer and wine
Since I got my 304
A good drink is hard to find
Workin’ on the projects
The rent man is knockin’ at my door
Workin’ on the projects
The rent man is knockin’ at my door
I’m sorry Mr. Rent Man
I just got my 304
Workin’ on the projects
The 304 man makes you cry
Workin’ on the projects
The 304 man makes you cry
That’s one thing for sure pal
You can kiss the projects good-bye
Workin’ on the projects
3 or 4 months ago
Workin’ on the projects
3 or 4 months ago
Since I got my 304
My baby won’t see me no more (3x)

Stockyard Blues
[ Floyd Jones, Chicago, 1947 ]

In 1945 Floyd Jones (1917-1989) left his Arkansas home and joined
the great migration of African-Americans searching for better
opportunity in Chicago.   Many of these migrants found work in the
city’s steel mills, stockyards and factories and became an element in the
success of organized labor in the city.   Jones became part of
the new
post-war blues scene and in 1947 recorded this gem.
 
Left home this morning
‘Bout half past nine
Past the stockyards
The boys was on the picket line
You know I need a hundred dollars
You know I need to make a dollar
Cause the cost of livin’ has gone so high
Darlin’ I don’t know what to do
I went to the butcher
To get my beef
He said the price is up
On all of my meats
You know I need to earn a dollar
You know I need to make a dollar
Cause the cost of livin’ has gone so high
Darlin’ I don’t know what to do
I rent for real estate
I got the news
Gonna raise your rent
Pay more money or you move
So I need to earn a dollar
You know I need to make a dollar
The cost of living gone so high
Darlin’ I don’t know what to do
Got the bus one morning
About half past four
When I got my transfer
It’s a nickel more
You know I need to earn a dollar
You know I need to make a dollar
With the cost of living gone so high
Darlin’ I don’t know what to do

Our Battle Song
[ James & Emily Tallmadge, Chicago, 1886 ]

The Knights of Labor emerged in the 1880s as the hope of the nation’s
working class and quickly counted nearly a million members from almost
every trade and occupation.   Chicago proved a powerful base
for the union
until the employer-state counteroffensive of 1886-87.   The union
was well
known for its skilled poets and songwriters.   "Our Battle
Song" came in many
versions and became labor’s most popular anthem in this period.   The
Tallmadges worked as printers at a small shop in downtown Chicago and
published a Knights of Labor songbook in 1886.   The tune comes from
a
popular evangelical hymn, "Hold the Fort."
 
Hark!  the bugle note is sounding
Over all the land;
See!  the people forth are rushing,
Oh!  the charge is grand.
Chorus:
Storm the fort, you Knights of Labor;
‘Tis a glorious fight;
Brawn and brain against injustice-
God defend the right!
How the mighty host advances,
Labor leads the van;
The Knights are rallying by the thousands
On the labor plan.
Strong entrenched behind their minions,
Sit the money kings;
Slavery grabbers, thieves, and traitors
Join them in their rings.
Who will dare to shun this conflict?
Who would be a slave?
Better die within the trenches
Forward, then, be brave.

Eight Hour Song
[ Charles Haynes, Chicago, 1865 ]

Charles Haynes, a blind musician, wrote the first of many songs that
voiced support for the eight-hour day.   He borrowed the tune from
the
popular Civil War song "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp."   Chicago
became
the center of the workers’ movement for the eight-hour day in the 1880s.
Company and government armies brutally repressed that movement in
1886 after a wave of massive strikes.   Labor leaders in Chicago
were
hanged or imprisoned after the famous Haymarket affair.   American
workers didn’t achieve the eight-hour day until the 1930s.
 
Let us gather once again
Let us strike for might and main
Let us overcome the proud without delay;
Let the workingmen unite,
For each one must have the right
And the law for work be made eight hours a day.
Chorus
Hear your leader’s voices call you
Hasten quickly on your way;
We must rally for the fight;
Stand for justice and for right.
Til the law for work be made eight hours a day
Now the lowly must be raised,
And the haughty made to feel
That oppression can no longer be endured;
If we stand as firm as steel,
The foe must surely yield
And the evils that we suffer will be cured.
Chorus
Put each shoulder to the wheel,
Press your foe beneath your heel;
Let each working man be steady in the fight —
We must break the tyrant’s power,
Now’s the glorious day and hour
If we strike we’ll surely win the cause of right.

The Maud Wreck
[ Clara Bowen, Princeton, IN, 1906 ]

Railroad workers faced incredible dangers and the industry had a
horrible safety record.   Railroad union papers were filled with ads
for artificial limbs and burial insurance.   Railroad companies
rarely
paid more than minimal disability or death benefits.   Engineers
were
"aristocrats" among railroaders, but they weren’t immune from dangers
on the road, as Al Bowen discovered in Maud, IL, on December 25, 1905.
Railroaders and their families wrote thousands of songs and poems during
the 19th century.   Bowen’s daughter (or sister) wrote these
lyrics and I
found the melody in a Missouri singer’s songbook.
 
Christmas had come, the morn was dark
The moon had hid her face.
When Al Bowen, our engineer,
Went cheerfully to his place.
Al had a smile, kind word, a kind face
A courteous man was he
His winning ways made many a friend
As many will agree.
Before Al made that fatal trip
He cheerfully did proclaim
Goodbye mother dear, if I never come back
It will always be the same
I hate to make this run tonight
My headlight is no good
I fear some evil will take place
I feel as if it should.
The Southern never had a better man
No better engineer
But that night Al seemed to have
A little lingering fear.
Al took his place within the cab
McNeely by his side
Now keep your seat old boy, he said
We’ll have a flying ride.
I’m 30 minutes late, friend Mac
Buchanan will be there
He’s sliding in at Station Maud
I see her headlights glare.
Give her more coal, he said to Hutte
We must make up the time
To Al’s surprise he saw a light
Come streaming down the line.
It’s number 1, Great God, he cried
She’s comin’ round the neck
Jump, Mac, Jump, I’ll stay with her
You’ll find me in the wreck.
The iron steeds met with a terrible crash
And bursted like a shell
The streams of fire and scalding steam
Made it a terrible hell.
On Christmas morn, the searchers came
And found his body there.
His soul had taken its flight to God
Where death can never stare.
Al never knew the cause of it
The signal wrong was given
We know his soul has gone to rest
In the far off peaceful heaven.

The Victory
[ Lyrics, Mrs. S.A. Yates, Chicago, 1875 / Music, Bucky Halker ]

During the economic downturn of the 1870s, workers went out on strike
throughout the country.   Most of these efforts failed, including
the massive
railroad strike that was crushed by the military in 1877 and left scores of
workers dead.   Mrs. Yates, one of many women writers from the
period,
wrote this song for the victory of striking Pittsburgh workers in 1875.
 
The Pittsburgh boys have won the fight
Long may their victory last,
And may they never know again
The hardships of the past
They have fought the battle bravely,
Honor is their own,
Hundreds reap the benefits
Of the fruitful seeds they’ve sown.
Chorus:
Soon the Unions will grow stronger,
Men will not be trampled down
Soon the men that toil will be
The ones that wear the crown.
But the war is not yet over,
Union men are fighting still,
The soldiers there are brave and firm,
Don’t bend to tyrant’s will.
Every man and every brother,
They should lend a helping hand,
Give a little from their store
To help that valiant band.

Memorial Day Massacre
[ Lyrics adapted from Earl Robinson / Music, Bucky Halker ]

After 1936 the newly formed CIO and the Steel Workers Organizing
Committee (later the USWA)  fought diligently to establish a base
in
the steel industry.   Republic Steel, owned by Tom Girdler,  fought
workers with every weapon available,  from the courts to hired guns.
When workers at Chicago’s Republic Steel staged a mass rally on
Memorial Day 1937 several paid with their lives.   Film footage
shows some of them being shot in the back.   I’ve never heard
Earl
Robinson’s version of this song but I liked the words, so I just messed
with ’em a bit and came up with my own music.
 
On the dark Republic’s bloody ground
On the 30th of May.
Oh, workers, lift your voices high
For them that died that day.
The men who make our country’s steel
The workers in the mills,
Said in union is our strength
In justice is our will.
We will not be Tom Girdler’s slaves
But free men we will be.
Hear the voices from their graves,
"We died to set you free."
In ordered ranks they all marched on
To picket at the mill
They did not know that the boys in blue
Had orders shoot to kill.
As they marched on peacefully,
Old Glory waving high,
The gunmen cops took their aim
And let their bullets fly.
The deep, deep red will never fade
From Republic’s bloody ground.
The workers, they should not forget
To always sing this song.
Do not forget Republic’s name
Or Girdler’s bloody hands,
He’ll be a sign of tyranny
Throughout the world’s broad land.
Men and women of the working class
You little children too,
Remember on that fateful day (Memorial Day)
The men who died for you.

Remember Virden!
[ Lyrics, anonymous, 1901 / Music, Bucky Halker ]

Illinois coal fields have been the site of many long and bitter labor
battles beginning in the mid-19th century.   Striking workers from
Illinois, including Virden, helped the United Mine Workers of
America win its first major victory in 1897.   The next year,
however,
Illinois owners sought to break the contract and the union.   They
imported scabs and armed guards to do so in Virden.   In the
gun
battle that broke out, forty miners were wounded and seven were
killed.   They are buried at the union miners’ cemetery in Mt. Olive
with the great labor leader Mother Jones.   This poem appeared on
the third anniversary of the battle.
 
They fell in freedom’s battle,
They died for manhood’s right,
They fought and won the struggle
But they perished in the fight;
They never knew the blessing
Of the cause they died to save,
But the final of their struggle
Was the dark and yawning grave.
They rallied round the standard
Of unionism strong;
They strove by peaceful methods
To remedy the wrong;
They asked for living wages,
They sought but to be free –
But would the tyrants grant it?
Oh, would they grant the fee.
A, no!    The moneyed villains,
To give was not their will
They bade their hired assassins
To shoot – and shoot to kill!
They began the battle
Our heroes faced the foe,
They did their duty bravely,
As the people plainly know.
Peace to those brave martyrs,
Three years have passed since then
They fought and died at Virden
They died like gallant men.
May heaven’s joy be with them.
For braver men ne’er stood
Within the ranks of labor
In noble brotherhood.

Solidarity Forever
[ Ralph Chaplin, Lombard, IL, 1915 ]

Formed in Chicago in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World
sought to overthrow capitalism and to establish a worker’s
commonwealth.   It also became well known for its soap-box oratory,
poetry and singing.   Chaplin, an organizer and journalist, wrote
Solidarity Forever in 1915 with a tune from the popular Civil War song
"John Brown’s Body / Glory Hallelujah."   It quickly
became labor’s
most popular anthem.    We did our best to take it down
the garage-band
punky path and to rescue it from its typical pseudo-folk doldrums.
 
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.
Is there anything in common with the greedy parasites
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with their might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the Union makes us strong.
Chorus:
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 track we laid.
Now we stand outcast and starving, ‘midst 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.
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold;
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For the Union makes us strong.

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