Saturday, August 27, 2011

Joe Hill.

There's an interesting article in today's "New York Times" about the Swedish-born American labor leader/songwriter Joe Hill. You can read the article, hear some songs and see a slide show here:

Hill was the face of the International Workers of the World, the IWW, the Wobblies, the nascent anti-capitalist labor movement most feared by big-capital due to their radical tendencies. Hill wrote the songs of the labor movement, songs that rallied the workers and were later performed by Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and, of course, Bob Dylan.

In 1915, Hill was executed by a firing squad in Utah for allegedly robbing and killing a grocer and his son. New evidence has recently come to light that Hill was in flagrante delicto during the robbery/murder but was convicted and shot to death because of his involvement with the Wobblies. The state and big money wanted him gone.

When I was a kid my father played us Paul Robeson's rendition of "The Ballad of Joe Hill." This accomplished a few things.
1) He introduced us to the great Paul Robeson.
2) We learned about the violent struggle between capital and labor.
3) We were taught about the power of a compelling message and a great delivery.

There's no real advertising point today; I'm just wading through some 40-year-old memories.

And wishing, a bit, that we still had some radicals around to battle the pernicious forces of capital.


Unknown said...

Growing up in Sweden myself, Joe hill's presence was as strong as it's here in the US. Maybe stronger even, as Sweden probably have more powerful labor unions than the US ever had. Most working people still belong to one union or another. Not so many in advertising though. Maybe advertising should have a union. The power is 100% with the companies, and the holding companies.

Graham Strong said...

Funny, this song was played in my house when I was a kid (I think it must have been the Pete Seeger version), and it still pops into my head every once in a while -- it's my Dad's voice I always here singing it. Never realized it was about a real guy though. I haven't heard it in at least 35 years.

Thanks for the memories, and the history lesson.