An Annual Tradition at The Stars Hollow Gazette (http://www.thestarshollowgazette.com/) and DocuDharma (http://www.docudharma.com/).

Solidarity Forever is perhaps the most famous Union anthem yet it’s composer, Ralph Chaplin, came to hate it, writing-

[T]here is no one (among the Industrial Workers of the World, or Wobblies) who does not look with a rather jaundiced eye upon the ‘success’ of ‘Solidarity Forever.’

I didn’t write ‘Solidarity Forever’ for ambitious politicians or for job-hungry labor fakirs seeking a ride on the gravy train.

All of us deeply resent seeing a song that was uniquely our own used as a singing commercial for the soft-boiled type of post-Wagner Act industrial unionism that uses million-dollar slush funds to persuade their congressional office boys to do chores for them.

I contend also that when the labor movement ceases to be a Cause and becomes a business, the end product can hardly be called progress.

For you see, the essence of the song is class consciousness as laid out in the Preamble of The Little Red Book which says, “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Between Labor and Capital “a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.”

By this analysis any Union that did not at it’s core embrace syndicalism, the most famous examples of which in the United States are the craft unions of the American Federation of Labor and the industrial unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, was betraying the movement by giving workers the false impression that they have interests in common with and could control the employing class through contracts.

Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system.’

Likewise the IWW opposed participation in politics as mere compliance with an inherently corrupt system, “by organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

Now the lyrics I like best are the original 1915 version in which these revolutionary arguments find their clearest expression.

Chorus

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Verses

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

Alas hardly anyone uses them anymore, instead substituting various bowdlerized and watered down versions of the more controversial parts. Even Pete Seeger (by far the best YouTube version) skips the master and own verse.

In my house when we raise the fist of solidarity in the international socialist workers salute we sing it a cappella using the Chapin lyrics and follow with Which Side Are You On? by Florence Reece.

Come on you poor workers
Good news to you I tell
How the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.

Which side are you on, which side are you on

We’re starting our good battle
We know we’re sure to win
Because we’ve got the gun thugs
Looking very thin

Which side are you on, which side are you on

You go to Harlan County
There is no neutral there
You’ll either be a union man
Or thug for J.H. Blair

Which side are you on, which side are you on

They say they have to guard us
To educate their child
Their children live in luxury
Our children almost wild

Which side are you on, which side are you on

Gentlemen can you stand it
Oh tell me how you can
Will you be a gun thug
Or will you be a man

Which side are you on, which side are you on

My daddy was a miner
He’s now in the air and sun
He’ll be with you fellow workers
‘Til every battle’s won

Which side are you on, which side are you on

As always when I write pieces like this, I intend them to be mostly descriptive. They are not necessarily reflections of my beliefs. Likewise I prefer to use Wikipedia as a source, not because it’s the most comprehensive or accurate, but because, as a crowd sourced document, it represents the lowest common denominator of general agreement about the subject.

Photo by Judy Seidman of League for Industrial Democracy, poster by Anita Willcox