Songs of solidarity for the new century

Issue 

MayDay, MayDay: Songs of Solidarity
Various artists

Wobbly Radio and Unions NSW

REVIEW BY DANIELLE BUHAGIAR

There has been a proud history of pro-worker tunes dating back to the early days of the 20th century.

In 1915, Ralph Chaplin wrote “Solidarity Forever”, an anthem for the Industrial Workers of the World.

The 1930s was when Woody Guthrie rose to prominence with songs that included “This Land is Your Land” and “Union Maid”. The social movements of the '60s brought with them a plethora of political folk-pop. Even the self-indulgent '80s were able to breed urban poets like Billy Bragg, who assured us that “There is Power in a Union”.

Fast forward to 2000 and beyond: there seemed to be a shortage of artists ready to take the challenge to write about the issues faced by working people. That's why, at the beginning of 2002, the NSW Labor Council ran a workers' song competition through the Labor Council-sponsored music web site, Wobbly Radio.

More than 100 submissions arrived, straddling a broad range of music genres. In fact, the diversity and quality of the entries was so good that after the $5000 prize money was awarded, it was decided to showcase the best 17 pro-worker tunes from artists from across Australia, on the MayDay, MayDay CD.

In recent decades, hip hop has been the musical voice of many social movements, so it's fitting that the competition winner (and album opener) comes from local MC Swarmy G, who comes from Campbelltown in Sydney's south-west. “Mayday” is a driving tune with an open call for solidarity. More hip hop beats can be heard courtesy of Perth's Optamus (“Times Get Hard”), while the Bidston Moss Duo (“Union”) explore the crossover between hip hop, rock and blues.

If guitars are your thing, Melbourne-based Long Weekend offer sing-along guitar pop (“Working Poor”) and Dogbite serve up some fun harmonies (“Clout”). Things get more rockin' with longtime musical activists Urban Guerillas (“Touch One Touch All”). There's also a couple of retro-style pop tunes from Mahuia Cooper and Loaf.

At the folk-flavoured end of the spectrum, Peter Hicks teams with the Hobart Grass Roots Union Choir to capture the true spirit of protest with the classic “Hold That Line”. Craig Pinkney offers a beautiful acoustic ballad (“Workin' All Day”) and John Hospodaryk delivers a dark, angry critique of the Howard government (“Black Armband”).

Finally, there are the electronic contributions such as Beam Up's funky ode to Melbourne's now defunct tram conductors and the quirky electronica of the Eye's “Workers United (Will Overcome)”. The album ends with the Zoltan Brothers' “We'll Take No Shit from You”, a timely warning to governments and companies who ignore the rights of working people.

Several acts featured on MayDay, MayDay will launch the CD on October 30, 7.30pm, at the Roma Room (formerly the Metro Theatre) in George Street, Sydney. Ginger Tom, the Long Weekend, MC Swarmy G (with members of the Eastern Bloc and Moo Moo Crew) and the Urban Guerillas will perform, as will local troubadour Bernie Hayes.

All card carrying union members will receive a free copy of the CD on entry. Extra copies will be available on the night for only $5.

Visit Wobbly Radio at <http://www.wobblyradio.com>.

From Green Left Weekly, October 30, 2002.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page. 

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