It's been a while and I'm kind of being lazy because this is a list that I created a year ago but I don't know any better way to celebrate Labor Day then to share this list.
It would be impossible to talk about modern music or the Labor movement in America without mentioning the other. Starting with Joe Hill turning tables on the Salvation Army by rewriting their hymns into pro-union themes a tradition of pro labor songs began. Since it has been represented in every form of musical style. Songs raised not only the spirit of those on the picket line but raised awareness of the labor struggle.
With all the Labor Day Weekend Sales, parties and sales, the meaning of this national holiday is often lost. It's creation can be found in the Bloody outcome of the Pullman Strike where a number of workers were killed at the hands of U.S. Marshals and U.S. Military. Though the holiday existed in a number of states, it was the fear over more social unrest that prompted the U.S. Government to make Labor Day a national holiday.
It's really hard to understand the labor movement and it's importance in American history until you begin to consider working conditions in America at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Many of what we would consider basic human rights and safe working conditions were part of the status quo. What today would be considered civil rights violations now where business as usual not that long ago in the old U.S.A. Child labor, unsafe work conditions, 7 day work week, no breaks, or anything close to a living wage.
It’s a foreign concept to us today to fear for your life for simply voicing your desire a better life. Let alone stand up with your fellow works. We like to see our history before the 1960s as a time without social unrest but the reality is that the radical element of this country was stronger and more active. When you begin to take a close look at the government's reaction to organized social uprisings, it’s makes Kent State and the Chicago Democratic Convention look like a Baptist Sunday Picnic. Standing on a pick line in the first half of the 20th century could result in violent reaction from the government or big business in the form of their own private army the Pinkertons. Often it wasn’t just your job at risk but your life.
So this weekend while you are grilling out or having a ice cold one and spending time with family and friends, remember that those things that you take for granted and consider a normal part of the American working man or woman, weren’t given but earned. Here’s a group of songs that celebrate the struggle that got you that right and to honor those that are still fighting to insure a working wage in a safe working environment for everyone.
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