|Lyrics by||Ralph Chaplin|
|Recorded by||Almanac Singers, Pete Seeger, Joe Glazer|
|Performed by||Utah Phillips|
"Solidarity Forever", written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915, is perhaps the most famous union anthem after The Internationale. It is sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" and is inspired by the "Battle Hymn of the Republic". Although it was written as a song for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), other union movements, such as the AFL-CIO, have adopted the song as their own. The song has been performed in recent years by musicians such as the late Utah Phillips, and was redone by Emcee Lynx. It is still commonly sung at union meetings and rallies in the United States, Australia and Canada, and has also been sung at conferences of the Australian Labor Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party. This may have also inspired the hymn of the consumer cooperative movement, "The Battle Hymn of Cooperation", which is sung to the same tune.
Ralph Chaplin began writing –Solidarity Forever– in 1914, while he was covering the Kanawa coal miners– strike in Huntington, West Virginia. He completed the song on January 15, 1915, in Chicago, on the date of a hunger demonstration. Chaplin was a dedicated Wobbly, a writer at the time for Solidarity, the official IWW publication in the eastern United States, and a cartoonist for the organization. He shared the analysis of the IWW, embodied in its famed –Preamble,– printed inside the front cover of every Little Red Songbook.
The Preamble begins with a classic statement of a two-class analysis of capitalism: –The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.– The class struggle will continue until the victory of the working class: –Between these two classes 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.– The Preamble denounces trade unions as incapable of coping with the power of the employing class. By negotiating contracts, the Preamble states, trade unions mislead workers by giving the impression that workers have interests in common with employers.
The Preamble calls for workers to build an organization of all –members in any one industry, or in all industries.– Although that sounds a lot like the industrial unionism developed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the IWW would oppose John L. Lewis– campaign to split from the American Federation of Labor and organize industrial unions in the 1930s. The Preamble explains, –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.–– The IWW embraced syndicalism, and opposed participation in electoral politics: –by organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.–
The outlook of the Preamble is embodied in –Solidarity Forever,– which enunciates several elements of the IWW's analysis. The third stanza (–It is we who plowed the prairies–) asserts the primacy of the role of workers in creating values. This is echoed in stanzas four and five, which provide ethical justification for the workers– claim to –all the world.– The second stanza (–Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite–) assumes the two antagonistic classes described in the Preamble. The first and fifth stanzas provide the strategy for labor: union solidarity. And the sixth stanza projects the utopian outcome, a new world brought to birth –from the ashes of the old.–
Chaplin was not pleased with the widespread popularity of "Solidarity Forever" in the labor movement. Late in his life, after he had become a voice opposing (State) Communists in the labor movement, Chaplin wrote an article, –Why I wrote Solidarity Forever,– in which he denounced the –not-so-needy, not-so-worthy, so-called –industrial unions– spawned by an era of compulsory unionism.– He wrote that among Wobblies –there is no one 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.– He added, –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.–
Despite Chaplin's misgivings, "Solidarity Forever" has retained a general appeal for the wider labor movement because of the continued applicability of its core message. Many singers do not sing all six stanzas of "Solidarity Forever," typically dropping verses two (–Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite–) and four (–All the world that–s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone–), thus leaving out the most radical material.
Since the 1970s women have added verses to "Solidarity Forever" to reflect their concerns as union members. One popular set of stanzas is:
A variation from Canada goes as follows:
The centennial edition of the Little Red Songbook includes these two new verses credited to Steve Suffet:
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