Tuesday, 15 January 2013

On this Day in the History of the International Labour Movement

Solidarity Forever

On this day in 1915 Ralph Chaplin finished writing the song “Solidarity Forever”. The song was first written for and published by his union, the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW)[1]. Little did Chaplin know at the time that the song would go on to become an anthem of the latter-day labour movement[2] and subsequently spread to unions in beyond US borders.[3] The song has also spread into the political realm, with the New Democrat Party in Canada singing “Solidarity Forever” at its founding convention over 50 years ago[4].
Members of the IWW produced many touching pieces which expressed support for organized labour. Prominent among the songwriters was Joe Hill. Unfortunately, Hill’s life was brought to an untimely end.
While organizing workers in Salt Lake City, Hill was convicted of killing a man named John G. Morrison. Whether Joe Hill was actually guilty of Mr. Morrison’s death is a matter of speculation. Hill’s trial was reported to be openly hostile to Hill and the IWW. Many IWW supporters asserted that the trial was unjust. A lawyer summarizing the case for Solidarity stated that the main thing the State had against Hill “is that he is an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty.” Hill was executed in 1915. Not to be defeated even in death, Hill’s last will was to advise others: “Don’t waste any time mourning – ORGANIZE!”[5]
Ralph Chaplin’s “Solidarity Forever” was finished only 6 months before Hill’s execution and continued the proud tradition of union music done so expertly by Joe Hill. The song has been adopted by other major unions besides the IWW and has become an anthem for unions in multiple countries.
The song’s international appeal is a testament to the common struggles and interests of workers the world over. It emphasizes the strength and balance that can come only from solidarity. No matter where a worker is in the world, workers are stronger when they stand together in solidarity. In this sense, “Solidarity Forever” is more than a song – it is a timeless expression of the ideological conflict between the interests of workers and employers, emphasizing the need for workers to stand together in the fight for justice amidst this tension. The simple, poignant chorus of Chaplin’s song perfectly summarizes this reality:
Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
Solidarity forever!
For the union makes us strong.
“Solidarity Forever” has been performed by many esteemed artists, such as Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger and Leonard Cohen.  No matter your musical tastes, the song has almost certainly performed by an artist of your liking. Anyone who believes in the rights of organized labour is encouraged to take the time to enjoy this iconic song.

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