Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger Told Us How to Do It

It's not the first time I've mentioned the song Talking Union, but in honor of Pete Seeger's death I wanted to post the complete lyrics. Written by Seeger, Lee Hayes, and Millard Lampell in 1941, it was set to the tune of the "Talking Blues" after Woodie Guthrie taught them that song.

If you substitute the 1 percent or the .1 of the 1 percent or the corporations for the boss, it works pretty well as a set of instructions for our current travail. (And make it gender neutral, too, of course... times change and we all have things to learn, even Pete.)

Now, if you want higher wages let me tell you what to do
You got to talk to the workers in the shop with you.
You got to build you a union, got to make it strong,
But if you all stick together, boys, it won't be long.
You get shorter hours, better working conditions,
Vacations with pay. Take your kids to the seashore.

It ain't quite this simple, so I better explain
Just why you got to ride on the union train.
'Cause if you wait for the boss to raise your pay,
We'll all be a-waitin' 'til Judgment Day.
We'll all be buried, gone to heaven,
St. Peter'll be the straw boss then.

Now you know you're underpaid but the boss says you ain't;
He speeds up the work 'til you're 'bout to faint.
You may be down and out, but you ain't beaten,
You can pass out a leaflet and call a meetin'.
Talk it over, speak your mind,
Decide to do somethin' about it.

Course, the boss may persuade some poor damn fool
To go to your meetin' and act like a stool.
But you can always tell a stool, though, that's a fact,
He's got a yaller streak a-runnin' down his back.
He doesn't have to stool, he'll always get along
On what he takes out of blind men's cups.

You got a union now, and you're sittin' pretty,
Put some of the boys on the steering committee.
The boss won't listen when one guy squawks,
But he's got to listen when the union talks.
He'd better, be mighty lonely
One of the days.

Suppose they're working you so hard it's just outrageous
Paying you all starvation wages.
You go to the boss and the boss would yell,
"Before I raise your pay I'd see you all in hell!"
Well, he's puffing a big seegar, feeling mighty slick
Thinks he's got your union licked.
Well, he looks out the window and what does he see
But a thousand pickets, and they all agree:
He's a bastard. Unfair! Slave driver!
Bet he beats his wife!

Now, boys, you've come to the hardest time.
The boss will try to bust your picket line.
He'll call out the police, the National Guard,
They'll tell you it's a crime to have a union card.
They'll raid your meetin', hit you on the head,
Call every one of you a goddam red,
You're unpatriotic, Moscow agents, bomb throwers (even the kids).

But out at Detroit, here's what they found,
And out at Pittsburgh, here's what they found,
And out at Bethlehem, here's what they found:
That if you don't let red-baiting break you up,
And if you don't let stoolpigeons break you up,
And if you don't let vigilantes break you up,
And if you don't let race hatred break you up,
You'll win.
What I mean, take it easy, but take it!
Keep solidarity — actively work across differences — and don't let wedge issues divide the group or coalition. We can apply those guidelines to just about anything that needs to be changed.

Here's a video of Seeger singing "Talking Union."

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