Monday, September 04, 2006

In Praise of the Proletariat

The union hall is empty, the labor camps tore down.
And everthing we worked for lies broken on the ground.
And I'll bet old Cesaer Chavez,'d roll over in his grave.
If he could see the working man, how he's become a slave
~ Larry GardnerMarina, del Rey, California

Factory Workers 1907

In ancient Rome the proletariat (literally meaning “producers of offspring” because their only “wealth” was their children) consisted of the poor, landless freemen, artisans, and small tradesmen. In the theory of Karl Marx, the term proletariat designated the class of wage workers whose chief source of income was derived from the sale of their labor power. In the modern world the proletariat can be defined as all of those wage earners who work for someone else. There is also a sub-proletariat (Lumpenproletariat), disenfranchised and oppressed, who we call the unemployed; their plight must await a future blog post.

On this Labor Day 2006, I can think of no better way to recognize the proletariat than the songs that were written and sung as they fought for their rights. Much of what these working men and women won during the first three-fourths of the Twentieth Century—the 40 hour work week, health insurance, and retirement income—has been lost in the last thirty or so years under successive Republican administrations in the United States. However, their music continues and may some day re-awaken the labor movement

Below are the lyrics of two songs, one by Joe Hill, an early 20th Century labor organizer, song writer, and martyr, and one about Joe Hill:

Everybody’s Joining It (Joe Hill)

Fellow workers, can't you hear,
There is something in the air.
Everywhere you walk everybody talks'
Bout the I. W. W.
They have got a way to strike
That the master doesn't like --
Everybody sticks,
That's the only trick,
All are joining now.

Everybody's joining it, joining what?
Joining it!
Everybody's joining it, joining what?
Joining it!
One Big Union, that's the workers' choice,
One Big Union, that's the only choice,
One Big Union, that's the only noise,
One Big Union, shout with all your voice;
Make a noise, make a noise, make a noise, boys,
Everybody's joining it, joining what?
Joining it!
Everybody's joining it, joining what?
Joining it!
Joining in this union grand,
Boys and girls in every land;
All the workers hand in hand --
Everybody's joining it now.

The' Boss is feeling mighty blue,
He don't know just what to do.
We have got his goat, got him by the throat,
Soon he'll work or go starving.
Join I. W. W.
Don't let bosses trouble you,
Come and join with us --
Everybody does --
You've got nothing to lose.

I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night
(Alfred Hayes/Earl Robinson—1936 )

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he,
"I never died," says he.

"In Salt Lake, Joe, by God," says I
Him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge.
"Says Joe, "But I ain't dead," says Joe,
"But I ain't dead."

"The copper bosses shot you, Joe,
They killed you, Joe," says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man,"
Says Joe, "I didn't die," says Joe, "I didn't die."

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
Joe says, "What they forgot to kill
Went on to organize, went on to organize."

"Joe Hill ain't dead," he says to me,
"Joe Hill ain't never died.
Where workingmen are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side,
Joe Hill is at their side."

"From San Diego up to Maine
In every mine and mill
Where workers strike and organize,"
Says he, "You'll find Joe Hill," says he, "You'll find Joe Hill."


  1. Hazel Dickens sings a lot of pro-labor songs, and was especially involved in unionizing miners. She's one of my favorites, and the first one I think of when anyone talks about the labor movement.

    The unions have been all but wiped out- only 13% of Americans have a union now- and this coincides with the stagnation of wages and the obscene increase in CEO compensation. Gee, do you think it's just a coincidence?

  2. Hey, Nick, just dropping by to say HI and sorry I haven't been by much lately. Hope you are well.
    Have a wonderful week.
    Take care, Meow

  3. I find it strange that we weren’t taught about the labor movement in U.S. history in high school. We were taught about the wars us Americans fought and won—we had won all the wars, when I was in school, which was before Vietnam.

    The story of Joe Hill would have interested me. But, then, perhaps he was not mentioned because he was executed as a criminal. But so was John Brown. I don’t get it—or, maybe I do!

  4. Paul R on your link really has a great voice.

  5. I still love the old labor songs sung by Woody, Pete and others. 8 hours to work, 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours for sleep. We owe that to the union movement. And we have forgotten.

    It's all about economics, isn't it? Not even race, really. It's about the money and the power the money can give. Georgie Porgie is doing everything he can to create a plutocracy not to mention other diabolical things. I can't believe this is happening in the good old US of A. I read the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence about a month ago. I try to do so every year or so just to keep up with how far from it our leaders are taking us. We are moving away from it at record speed under this administration.

  6. another great post, Nick....always so well-thought out and -written.

  7. Hi Nick ~~ I hope you had a great Labor Day Holiday. Good post.
    I have been having awful trouble. My
    brother changed me to Beta and my blog got lost, set up another which also got lost. No 3 seems to be going OK.
    Take care Nick, Regards, Merle.

  8. Very interesting. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  9. Unions do not exist any more. The few that do remain have no power. The Republican servants of the Plutocrats have seen to that. Have you heard of the “Republican proletariat?” If not, look into these unfortunate, ignorant workers who truly believe the propaganda King George’s administration has been feeding us.

  10. You're a breath of fresh air Nick. keep it up.