20 September 2006

RIP: Joe Glazer

Joe Glazer, an icon of labor and protest music, has passed away. He lived in nearby Chevy Chase. Glazer turned familiar tunes into labor classics such as "We Shall Not Be Moved," and the flexibility of that song arose from one of Glazer's pillars of songwriting that the song should be easily modified to suit the occasion:
On the lines and at union rallies, particularly in the Bible Belt, he heard the tunes of traditional Christian hymns converted into labor anthems just by substituting a few lyrics. "We are climbing Jacob's ladder" became "We are building a strong union," for example. "Jesus is my captain, I shall not be moved" became "The union is behind us, we shall not be moved."
In his memoir, Mr. Glazer described leading the strikers around a giant Pepperell textile mill singing those songs. They were "basically one-line verses that could be quickly changed" to suit any situation, he said.

Glazer and other performers like him were part of a labor culture that is sadly lacking in the United States these days. In the early to mid-twentieth century, union halls were social spaces, with education programs and cultural events provided by and for the members.

Joe Glazer followed in the footsteps of Joe Hill and Ella May Wiggins (who was killed by vigilantes in the Gastonia Strike of 1929) and Woody Guthrie (whose later career overlapped Glazer's early career) and was a contemporary of Pete Seeger (who is amazingly still with us!).

In the words of Joe Hill, "Don't waste any time mourning. Organize!"

1 comment:

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks for this beautiful tribute. I remind the labor lawyer who is my client that people fought and died for the forty hour week. This is a guy who works 90 hour weeks. It seems so wrong.