Rebel Youth Magazine
It is billed as the greatest English-language labour anthem ever, perhaps second only to the Internationale. It has been translated into multiple languages and sung around the world. If you have been on strike, you've probably heard it, or sung it. Few rallies, large or small, in English-speaking Canada take place without it; and it is also common in Québec. Labour union meetings in Canada, the US and Australia sometimes end with it. The best and the worst labour and progressive choirs, folk singers, and raging grannies can all belt it out by heart.
The name of the song is Solidarity Forever -- but what do you really know about it?
|Poster from the People's|
Republic of China
If you are an activist worth their salt, you know the chorus and probably can say the first few lines at least. But even experienced labour activists haven't always heard some of the verses, which are usually cut from today's renditions of Solidarity Forever. Why? Well, "it's just too long" folks say. But could the reason be more political? You be the judge. Here are some of the forgotten verses of the song:
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...
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. (Our emphasis.)
2. The tune comes from a song about an anti-slavery insurgent
|The John Brown mural by famous|
progressive artist John S. Curry
|Ralph Chaplin drew this sticker in 1918 |
when he and other IWW activists were
behind bars in the Cook County Jail.
The image is a self-portrait.
Ralph Chapman didn`t just write songs; he was a very political and revolutionary person. An anarchist with the International Worker's of the World, Chapman grew up on the front-lines of labour struggle and was thrown in jail for labour organizing just two years after writing the Solidarity Forever. In the IWW served as secretary, and was known as the right-hand man of Big Bill Haywood. The IWW based its strategy and tactics to overthrow capitalism on one route alone: a massive general strike action by workers, taking down the government and creating conditions to build a new society. After the October Revolution in Russia more and more leftists would question the IWW`s narrow approach, leading to the formation of a new political group: the Communist Party. In both the US and Canada, political groups debating Marxist ideas would draw into their ranks countless hard-working labour activists from the IWW who had come to reject its anarchism and decide to build a Communist Party. While Chapman would stay an anarchist years after his movement fell into obscurity and ultimately end his life as an anti-communist, his close friend Big Bill Haywood would go onto to be a founding member of the US Communist Party or CPUSA, as would other IWW leaders like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and, in Canada, Sam Scarlett. Champman's comrade died in exile in the USSR. Big Bill Haywood is one of a handful of US citizens buried in the Kremlin.
4. It is inspired by Marxism
Of course, right-wing social democratic union leaders who do believe in concessions to capital or 'business unionism' can and do still sing the anthem, after dropping a few lines -- but just for length, of course!
Download the sheet music here.