Monday, September 7, 2009

Celebrating Labor Day

For many of us, the first Monday of September signifies the end of summer and the start of another school year. We forget that the day was established to honor the contributions of hard-working folks. In the aftermath of the notorious 1884 Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland hoped to encourage political rapprochement with Labor by pushing through legislation making Labor Day a national holiday. Another motivation for establishing Labor Day in September was to distance it from May Day, which had already become identified as “International Worker’s Day.” In the U.S., we turned May 1st into “Loyalty Day.” And if all of this is sounding as familiar to you as it is to me, it’s because I posted something about it back in May to accompany a video of Merle Haggard in honor of May Day.

To celebrating the people who put the "work" in "workmanlike," I selected a few of my favorite pro-labor tunes, starting with the man hisself, Mr. Pete Seeger (may he win a Nobel Prize someday) singing “Which Side are You On?”

Let's look at that one from another angle; this is Natalie Merchant’s haunting version, which starts off with Florence Reece who wrote the song in 1930.

Now, here's Woody Guthrie singing “All of You Fascists Are Bound to Lose.” That's Sonny Terry on harmonica and providing the accompanying whoops and hollers). I suppose it's not strictly a union song, but he does talk about folks organizing.

Then there's Billy Bragg with his interpretation of the Guthrie tune:

I'll close with The Strawbs singing “Part of the Union” in 1973. The Strawbs formed in England in 1964 as a bluegrass band known as the Strawberry Hill Boys. In their early days, they accompanied Sandy Denny who went on to become a member of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay.

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