Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Barbara Klein. Most of the world observes Labor Day on May first. But the
United States has its workers holiday on the first Monday in September. Today
on our program, we have a few songs from the history of the American labor
Labor songs are traditionally stories of struggle and
pride, of timeless demands for respect and the hope for a better life.
Sometimes they represent old songs with new words. One
example is "We Shall Not Be Moved." It uses the music and many of the
same words of an old religious song.
is folksinger Pete Seeger with "We Shall Not Be Moved."
classic American labor songs came from workers in the coal mines of the South.
Mine owners bitterly opposed unions. In some cases, there was open war between
labor activists and coal mine operators.
Once, in Harlan County, Kentucky, company police
searched for union leaders. They went to one man's home but could not find him
there. So they waited outside for several days.
coal miner's wife, Florence Reece, remained inside with her children. She wrote
this song, "Which Side Are You On?"
here is Pete Seeger.
Probably the most famous labor songwriter in America
was Joe Hill. He was born in Sweden and came to the United States in the early
nineteen hundreds. He worked as an unskilled laborer.
Hill joined the Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies. More
than any other union, they used music in their campaigns, urging members to
"sing and fight."
of Joe Hill's best-known songs is "Casey Jones." It uses the music
from a song about a train engineer. In the old song, Casey Jones is a hero. He
bravely keeps his train running in very difficult conditions.
Joe Hill's version, Casey Jones is no hero. His train is unsafe. Yet he stays
on the job after other workers have called a strike against the railroad
Seeger and the Song Swappers sing "Casey Jones (The Union Scab)."
American labor song is called "Bread and Roses." That term was
connected with the women's labor movement.
song was based on a poem called "Bread and Roses" by James Oppenheim.
The poem was published in The American Magazine in December of nineteen eleven.
following month there was a famous strike by textile workers in Lawrence,
Massachusetts. They won higher pay and better working conditions. Oppenheim's
poem gained more attention.
that time, conditions in factories were already a national issue. In nineteen
eleven, a fire at a clothing factory in New York had taken the lives of one
hundred forty-six people. The victims were mostly immigrant women.
is Pat Humphries with "Bread and Roses."
Union activists know that labor songs can unite and
help people feel strong. This can be true even when the music has nothing to do
Colores" is a popular Spanish folksong. It talks about fields in the spring,
little birds, rainbows and the great loves of many colors.
song is popular with supporters of the United Farm Workers union. We listen as
Baldemar Velasquez leads the band Aguila Negra in "De Colores."
many years, folksinger Joe Glazer was a union activist with a guitar. He was
also a labor historian. "Labor's Troubadour" was the name of a book
he wrote about his life. He believed in organized labor and preserving the
musical history of the American labor movement. Joe Glazer died in two thousand
six at the age of eighty-eight.
is Joe Glazer with "Solidarity Forever," written by Ralph Chaplin.
Our program was written by Jerilyn
Watson and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.
I'm Barbara Klein. To learn more about American life, go to
voaspecialenglish.com, where you can download archives of our programs. Join us
again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.