May Day 2014: Songs That Celebrate and Defend The Rights of Workers Everywhere

Posted by Billyjam, May 1, 2014 09:40am | Post a Comment
        Common a month ago doing a free show in support of workers at the Nissan car
        plant in Canton, Miss. who are pushing for a vote to organize as part of the UAW

In light of the ever increasing war being waged against unions and in turn the stripping of the basic rights of the working class in this country and elsewhere, this year's May Day (the internationally recognized day to celebrate and to defend the rights of workers everywhere from Modesto to Moscow) seems extra significant on this May 1st, 2014; perhaps even as significant as that very first mass US May Day protest back in 1886 when hundreds of thousands of disgruntled workers across the US, in a fight for an 8 hour work day, walked off their jobs in protest. Hence for this May Day I have assembled a selection of songs/videos that reflect the plight of struggling workers in a time when the gap between the rich controlling class and the rest of us gets wider and wider. 

Of the countless songs written/sung on behalf of the working class I've selected such tracks as Woody Guthrie's "Union Burying Ground," Billy Bragg's "There Is Power In A Union," Ani DiFranco's version of "Which Side Are You On?" - the 1931 pro union anthem by Florence Reece who was the wife of Sam Reece, a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County - that many first heard via the recently departed Pete Seeger's rendition, and Bob Dylan with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at Farm Aid (1986) doing "Maggie's Farm" which begins at 8 minutes into the set that also includes "I'll Remember You" and "Trust Yourself" (Willie Nelson appears onstage also). Other May Day/pro-union/working class themed songs below include a heartfelt live 2009 concert version of Bruce Springsteen's "Factory" (originally from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town), Dick Gaughan's moving rendition of "Worker's Song" (from his recommended 1981 album Handful of Earth), and John Lennon's post Beatles 1970 track "Working Class Hero" (off John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band).

Speaking of working class heroes, indie Irish hip-hop record label Workin' Class Records' goal is to rep talented rappers from the Dublin working class neighborhoods of Finglas and Ballymun. Included below is the Workin' Class rap crew Street Literature's video for "Products of the Environment" from a few years back. There's tons more great music (including Street Literature member Costello solo) from this fine label that recently was featured in the documentary Broken Song. Other songs/videos below include Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello performing an acoustic live version of "Union Song" at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart protest a couple of years ago. And finally below is onetime Morello collaborators Outernational's 2009 song "Fighting Song." In honor of May Day the Brooklyn based revolution rock band will play the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan tonight at 10pm. Tix and more info.

Bruce Springsteen "Factory (live @ Paramount Theatre 2009)"

Billy Bragg "There Is Power In A Union"

Ani DiFranco "Which Side Are You On?" Photo Montage

Tom Morello "Union Song (live in LA Wal-Mart Protest, 2012)

John Lennon "Working Class Hero"

Street Literature "Products of the Environment"

Woody Guthrie "Union Burying Ground"

Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers @ Farm Aid, 1986 ("Maggie's Farm" at 8:00)

Outernational "Fighting Song"  (lyrics, audio only)

Dick Gaughan "Workers' Song" (audio only)

Relevant Tags

Farm Aid (1), Bob Dylan (63), Ani Difranco (1), Costello Irish Rapper (1), Workin Class Records (1), Outernational (4), May Day 2014 (1), Union Songs (1), Dick Gaughan (1), Tom Morello (5), Rage Against The Machine (8), Woody Guthrie (3), Billy Bragg (8), Bruce Springsteen (24), Common (17)