“Workers of the World, Awaken!” by Joe Hill

Song. By Joe Hill. 1910.
A classic labor song, reaching out to workers to around the world.

  • Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919, 20th Century | Themes: Labor, Organizing | Resource Types: Songs and Poems

Linocut by Carlos Cortez, 1979. Click image to learn more.

A songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer, Joe Hill became famous around the world after a Utah court convicted him of murder. Even before the international campaign to have his conviction reversed, however, Joe Hill was well known on picket lines and at workers’ rallies as the author of popular labor songs and as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) agitator. Thanks in large part to his songs and to his stirring, well—publicized call to his fellow workers on the eve of his execution—”Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”—Hill became, and he has remained, the best—known IWW martyr and labor folk hero. [From AFL-CIO history.]

Joe Hill’s firsthand experience with working conditions led him to membership in the I.W.W. in 1910. Almost at once he started writing songs to unite a working class that was fractured into ineffective pieces due to language and cultural differences. Using the music of popular hymns and tunes, Hill added lyrics that soon were sweeping through labor picket lines throughout the nation. Hill’s 1910 song, “Workers of the World, Awaken!” was a call to action: [From KUED-7 Utah.]

 

Lyrics

Workers of the world, awaken!

Break your chains, demand your rights.
All the wealth you make is taken
B y exploiting parasites.
Shall you kneel in deep submission
F rom your cradles to your graves?
Is the height of your ambition
To be good and willing slaves?

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Fight for your own emancipation;
Arise, ye slaves of ev’ry nation, in One Union Grand.
Our little ones for bread are crying;
And millions are from hunger dying;
The end the means is justifying,
‘Tis the final stand.

If the workers take a notion,
They can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean
They can tie with mighty chains;
Every wheel in the creation,
Every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation,
Will at their command stand still.

-Chorus-

Join the union, fellow workers,
Men and women, side by side;
We will crush the greedy shirkers
Like a sweeping, surging tide;
For united we are standing,
But divided we will fall;
Let this be our understanding-
“All for one and one for all.”

-Chorus-

Workers of the world, awaken!
Rise in all your splendid might;
Take the wealth that you are making –
It belongs to you by right.
No one for bread will be crying,
We’ll have freedom, love and health,
When the grand red flag is flying
In the Worker’s commonwealth.

-Chorus-

Related information: KUED-7 Utah offers a documentary film about Joe Hill and a University of Utah professor and students developed The Joe Hill Project with online access to songs and newspaper articles.

 

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