Labor Day 2018

As SJ has been around for more than a few Labor Days, I’ve largely played out as much as I’ve had to say about organized labor. But recently, I’ve twitted a bit about public sector unionism being a travesty. I have no burning desire to engage in a twitfight with people whose grasp of unions is limited to “solidarity, yah!”

To discuss any subject requires some small depth of knowledge about it. The platitudinous crowd knows what it feels, and needs to know nothing more, making any engagement neither fun nor useful. Workers deserve to be paid a “decent” wage? Sure, but that doesn’t address anything of value. What’s a “decent” wage? Who pays it? Don’t the people who pay it deserve to be paid a “decent” wage too, especially if the money taken from them to pay public employees leaves them impoverished?

And then there’s the entire concept of public sector unionism that’s fundamentally and irreconcilably flawed, not to mention the ability of public employees to influence their paymasters by both their vote and their union bribes. But I digress.

What’s forgotten in this platitudinous gutter of simplicity is that unions, particularly the Industrial Workers of the World, have come up with some great music to further their cause, to rally their troops, to persuade the passionate to their cause. And no matter what you think of their cause, you can’t deny that the Wobblies had the best songs.

Enjoy Labor Day, and raise your glass to an anarcho-syndicalist for giving us music, if nothing else.

32 thoughts on “Labor Day 2018

  1. Richard Kopf


    From early childhood, I have wanted to punch Pete Seeger in the face. His rendition of “Solidarity Forever,” the song that begins your video, is a perfect example of why that is so.

    His hectoring voice reminds me of the privilege he grew up with, enjoyed throughout his life and screams “hypocrisy.”The lyrics of “Solidarity Forever” are never more cloying than when sung by Peter the Woke:

    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.

    Sorry for the rant. I feel better now.

    Did I mention that Seeger is dead? So, not to worry, I can’t punch him in the face.

    Happy Labor Day! All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      When I was in college, I was invited by the UAW to its retreat in Black Lake, Michigan. We were all given “jobs” as if we were trying to start a union. I was made editor of the union paper. My first story was about how they used bed sheets made by the notorious union-busting J.P.Stevens at Black Lake. I was never invited back.

      1. Richard Kopf


        My late wife vacationed at Black Lake as well. Several times when I visited her at that idyllic place, I was variously a member of the UAW, the Teamsters and the Brotherhood of Railway Express Clerks.

        Since her dad, who I came to love, was a physician, grown from farm boy who was the first in his family to graduate high school, detested unions, at that time in my young life, I never knew which side I was on. That uncertainty notwithstanding, I knew one thing for sure. Pete was an effete fraud. He never fabricated Chrysler tailpipes, or loaded trucks or took switch lists to mean-ass locomotive engineers (like my brother).

        All the best.


        1. SHG Post author

          Black Lake was one hell of a sweet resort. I wondered at the time whether auto workers got to play there, or just us college students they hoped would be their future business agents. I knew which side I was on. My “boss” at Black Lake was Owen Beiber, who was Regional Direct of 1D at the time. He gave me my first union card, even though I’d done nothing to earn it, and his UAW windbreaker as a gift, which was cool but for the fact he was a large fellow and I was not. He went on to become UAW president after Doug Frazer.

          Later, when I was clerk to Ken Kahn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and his managing editor at his company, Labor Relations Press, I was given membership in the FOP, which included a license plate tag. Now that was really useful. Ken used to drive us from Philly to Harrisburg on the Green Stamp in his Corvette, and he may have occasionally gone over the speed limit, only to receive a courteous wave from the state troopers as we drove past.

          1. Richard Kopf


            My brother was the local chairman for the locomotive engineers in Toledo, Ohio. He contracted small cell young cancer from smoking and was about to die soon, according to the Mayo Clinic trained Doc. So the union bigwigs came out for Labor Day and let Kip, my brother, drive a festooned red convertible while the bigwigs sat in the back waving to the crowd and, you guessed it, smoking cigarettes.

            Kip got the last laugh. Somehow he survived the small cell cancer only to be killed much later by another type. He often laughed about how the bigwigs were mostly assholes. And don’t get me started on the kickbacks that the big city FELA lawyers allegedly paid who were “recommended” by the union. Kip delighted in telling his men to hire local lawyers instead.

            Nevertheless, Kip was a “wobbly” to the end. I loved him for that and much else. So far as I can remember, though, he never played Pete Seeger.

            All the best.


            1. SHG Post author

              You gotta believe. I still have Beiber’s windbreaker, these many years later. No idea why I saved it, but here it is.


        2. B. McLeod

          Musicians, of course, have their own unions, as will soon become apparent whenever you have to book professional musicians for any event.

    2. David Meyer-Lindenberg


      It may alarm you to learn that you and Cato’s David Boaz are in complete agreement on this point.

      Politics aside, I quite like Seeger’s music. I especially like his rendition of “John Brown’s Body”, from which the melody of “Solidarity Forever” is taken. Yeah, the commie union lyrics may suck, but the melody’s a classic, so lie back and think of the Republic.

      All the best and happy Labor Day,

      1. Richard Kopf


        Seeger traced his “genealogy back over 200 years. A paternal ancestor, Karl Ludwig Seeger, a doctor from Württemberg, Germany, had emigrated to America during the American Revolution and married into the old New England family of Parsons in the 1780s.” It is only because of that (misbegotten) German heritage that I will not call for your deportation.

        As for any agreement with anyone from CATO, I tried your link and got a 404 error. I, therefore, conclude that you know not whereof you speak. Were it otherwise, I might have to begin wearing a tin foil hat.

        All the best.


    3. B. McLeod

      I don’t know how many folk musicians post here. For myself, I always respected Pete Seeger as an elder and master of the craft, and I believe he was generally so taken by a great many, perhaps even most, of the musicians in this genre. He was also an undeniable influence, and I have been accused of parodying him in the song “Dear Members” on the B. McLeod SoundCloud page. There certainly has been room to disagree with his politics, and (in my particular case) with his position on altering folk songs to make them PC. However, I never bore him ill because he lacked my blue collar background or my experience working in machine shops or in steel fabrication. I think if I had ever met him, we probably would have traded a few tunes, and we would have agreed to disagree about certain things, without resorting to fisticuffs.

  2. Fubar

    And no matter what you think of their cause, you can’t deny that the Wobblies had the best songs.

    And some of the best singers, songwriters and storytellers.

  3. Guitardave

    “funny-not-funny”…this union song, from 1990ish, speaks about voting on weather bumper stickers should be issued….it mirrors my experience of the true utility of the union i was in at the time. (steelworkers)
    A Story for your holiday.
    In 7th grade they allowed us to choose the subject of a report for social studies…i choose the Molly Maguires..I got an A, and up to the time i actually HAD to join a union, i could have sung any of those Wobblie old songs with much SJW type passion.
    Funny what experience can do….my first “good job” after HS, was a small shipyard …AFL-CIO union…(we called it the UFO-CIA)…it was 1980, tough times for heavy mfg. I was making about $10 an hr, which i thought was good, coming from a non-union, $6 an hr. welding job in a stone quarry. That was until about 6 months in.
    The yard, that had normally employed 200-400 workers building flat bottom barges, and dredges ( we couldn’t launch anything bow first or with a deep draft) was going down the tubes, but as “luck” would have it, got bought out by an “international” conglomerate, at the very same time it won the contract to build the tubes for the Fort McHenery I-95 tunnel in Baltimore. They tore out everything related to building powered vessels ( big red flag on the job security front) and essentially turned it into a production line for tunnel tubes. They had about 300 people when i started, and in less than a year had 1200 people working 3 shifts, 24/7.
    They had a large talent pool to hire from because of all the other shipyards in Balto and Philly were having massive lay-offs. That’s when i found out the $10 an hr the union “fought” to get me was shit…guys that had the same job description had been making 16-20 in their previous digs. The vibe in that yard was dark and mean…over half the guys in that place were suddenly commuting 2 hours a day for half the money…and were on meth, too…but hey, only five guys died in the 2.8 years i was there..1 murder, 2 ODs and 2 accidents…safety first!
    The union at that place knew the score and didn’t give one fuck about the workers. It was nothing but a goddamn racket. The only thing i saw them fight for was useless motherfuckers that no one in their right mind would ever hire in the first place. Three yrs later i was unemployed, the yard was wiped off the map to make way for condos. WORKERS of the WORLD UNITE!!! Right.
    I could tell you one more about a union president who told me i should quit before they ratted me out to the company who wanted my head, because i stirred up the rank and file by writing an un-authored manifesto suggesting we should find another union, as the one we had had blatantly throw out weekend overtime pay in an effort to land a new dept., that just HAD to run 24/7. Funny…that very same year the company won the “PA Governors award for Union-Company cooperation”…..we all got a nice beer mug with two hands clasped… “solidarity” …RIGHT! Gitdaveout.

    1. SHG Post author

      I still have an old union-busting hand out, a small booklet that says on the cover, “what a union can do for you,” and inside are blank pages.

  4. losingtrader

    Since we’re telling stories, I was never a member of a union but my first job out of college was auditing a Dutch-owned lumber processing plant in La Marque, Texas , home of the Mosquito Festival (if you’ve v been there you’d no why)

    Imagine your daughter being named Mosquito Queen.

    . The powerful union got the employees $6/ hr in 1982 and a free microwave in the lunch room, plus the right to rent on-site trailers across from the factory, which were owned by the factory.

    I’ve never, before or since, seen people go about their daily business with hundreds of millions of mosquitos biting.

  5. the other rob

    I’ve always secretly liked the national anthem of the Soviet Union.

    This, I think, is the 1977 version:

      1. Guitardave

        Wait a minute…let me get my 1955 Websters new 20th..and be a pedant…
        Chaos; 1. confusion or confused mass of formless and INFINITE space, supposed to have existed before the ordered universe.
        2. Any mixed mass, without due form or order; CONFUSION; as a chaos of materials.
        3. an empty immeasurable space; an abyss [Archaic] (that’s rich! gd)

        …so does INFINITE CONFUSION have a “breaking point”?…or even a “theory” ???
        (you don’t have to answer….and sorry if i bummed you out)

          1. Guitardave

            I am aware of Lorenz…i even have a elementary understanding of said theory. I’m not disputing that. My problem is they co-opted a word by placing its complete opposite beside it…which changes the meaning……then take it away and, ta-da!…new word! ( it looks exactly like the old one, but its NOT!)

            >This behavior is known as [deterministic chaos], or simply chaos. <

            I call BS. Either have a qualifier, like deterministic chaos, or partial chaos, or come up with a new word….but don't say "or simply chaos". Its the same thing idiots have done with the word passion.
            It could also be possible that I'm a bit lazy and simple minded and like words to be clear when in fact they're complicated. ( Funny, I found that cinder block sized Dictionary 15yrs ago when i did some time on a trash truck….I couldn't believe someone would throw it out….the rest of that day the thought loop was, "this country is fucked")

            1. SHG Post author

              Sounds like a personal issue. Fascinating though this may be to you, is it really that fascinating to me? To anyone else here? Call BS all you like, but consider whether the lawyers and judges who read SJ are as obsessed with this as you are. This is me trying to send you a sweetly-worded message that maybe you’re pushing the Dave-envelope too far, k? I enjoy the good music, as I suspect others do as well, but this isn’t the Dave’s Philosophy blog.

            2. Guitardave

              [Ed. Note: Sometimes a commenter gets too comfortable and figures his good stuff entitles him to great latitude to persist in arguing silly stuff. You don’t like the name “Chaos Theory”? That’s fine. I have no problem with it, but I didn’t name it. I let you have your say, even though I consider your issue dumb, but you had to persist. If you feel compelled to continue the argument, then argue with the guy who named it all you want.

              I tried to nicely send a message. It didn’t get through. It’s unfortunate, as I enjoy your vids. But this is still my house and you are still a guest like everyone else.]

            3. Guitardave

              > arguing silly stuff< …..Yes.
              You are correct. A bridge too far…..I'll stick with what I'm good at.
              ( See what happens when your nice) 🙂 Rock on…

  6. Tracie

    I personally prefer the song Not Getting Fooled Again, classic Who.

    And yes, I agree with you. The union issue is more complex than people realize

  7. Nemo

    To risk a tangential, as public sector unions go, the Police Political Paradox is an interesting conundrum:

    To be effective at their jobs, the police must be seen as particularly trustworthy, but come election time, the particularly trustworthy voice of the police gets to endorse candidates.

    With the involvement of the 1st Amendment, I have no idea how to resolve that unholy symbiosis between police unions and politicians, but for any significant reform to happen, it needs to be resolved, somehow.

    As far as songs for working stiffs go, I prefer Bob Seger to Pete:

    Here’s to everyone who knows what it’s like to work in a trench;
    You paid your dues.


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