The Workers

IWW Pamphlet cover
IWW pamphlet, 1933
Oregon Military Department Records, Communist Activity Intelligence Reports

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left for us but to organize and fight?
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.

From "Solidarity Forever" by Ralph Chaplin

In the 1890s, workers began distributing strike songbooks in American cities. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies, most completely combined songs and action in their movement for union building and workers' rights in the early 1900s. Songs were a central part of the organization's strategy of recruitment, solidarity and strikes. These tunes showed a fluid adaptability to new lyrics to fit the moment - a trait important to many of the most famous protest songs throughout history.

One of the best-known songs of this period was "Bread and Roses" by James Oppenheim and Caroline Kolsaat, which was taken up by protest movements throughout the 20th century.

"The Preacher and the Slave"

Joe Hill was the best known of the Wobblie songwriters, setting new lyrics of protest to well-known tunes everyone could sing along with. Hill's revolutionary song "The Preacher and the Slave" is a parody of "In the Sweet Bye and Bye," a religious song about the rewards of heaven after the toil of life on earth. Hill mocks the Salvation Army's preachers, who offer solace for those who wait, rather than fighting for relief.

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Read the lyrics to "The Preacher and the Slave"

As we go marching, marching
Unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing
Their ancient call for bread
Small art and love and beauty
Their drudging spirits knew
Yes it is bread we fight for,
But we fight for roses, too.

From "Bread and Roses"
by James Oppenheim
and Caroline Kolsaat

Joe Hill
Joe Hill on the cover of
The Organiser

All lyrics are provided for informational and educational purposes only.
Lyrics are subject to all U.S. copyright laws and remain property of their respective owners.

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