Historic and relevant
Power in the Union
Featuring Peter Hicks
Supported by Taliesin, Doug Jenner and Judy Pinner
Reviewed by Kim Spurway
Well I'm a union man
I'm proud of what I am
An' I don't get fooled
By the bosses rules,
Or by their tricks an' their rorts an' their scams.
I was brought up in a home where songs the like of "Union Man", or, more specifically, older songs like "The Red Flag" and "The Internationale", were common fare. And so I looked forward to reviewing Peter Hicks' latest musical offering.
Sponsored by various unions, the cassette covers a broad range of songs of working-class struggle. Included are well-known standards like "The Internationale", "The Red Flag" and "Solidarity Forever". Also included are songs from Joe Hill and Woody Guthrie, both well-respected and much-liked songwriters. Joe Hill's "The Preacher and the Slave", written in 1911 in parody of a revivalist song, and Guthrie's "Sacco and Vanzetti" are two of these.
As well as recognising the "international nature of working-class solidarity and struggle", Hicks wanted to include songs that reflected the history and struggle in Australia itself — songs like the "Ballad of 1891" (the story of the great shearers' strike) and the "Ballad of Western Main" (on the death of three coal miners in the Lithgow coalfields in May this year).
Power in the Union is a worthwhile addition to any musical collection. It has some stirring moments and has a lot of refreshing new arrangements of old favourites. It is easy to listen to, is politically progressive and, at times, inspirational. By purchasing it, you'd also be supporting an alternate cultural production.
As Hicks says, "Working class struggle, militancy and the role of trade unions are not phenomena that belong only in the past". These songs are part of the labour movement's past, but their message is very relevant today. With attacks on the unions and workers' basic rights on the increase, the message of the songs on this tape is one of solidarity, struggle and hope. The final line of the "Ballad of 1891" bring Australia's own anti-union laws like 45D and E to mind: "When they jail a man for striking, it's a rich man's country yet".