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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where's Joe Hill?

This morning I listened again to Joan Baez’s wonderful rendition of “Joe Hill.”

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me.

Says I, “But Joe you’re ten years dead.” “I never died,” says he.

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe. They shot you,Joe,” says I.

“It takes more than guns to kill a man,” says Joe. “I didn’t die.”

And standing there as big as life and smiling with his eyes,

Says Joe, “What they can never kill went on to organize.”

From San Diego up to Maine, in every mine and mill

When workingmen defend their rights, that’s where you’ll find Joe Hill.

It is sad to think how far we have drifted from the vision that Joe Hill and people like him worked to achieve so many years ago. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, long after those early struggles to gain basic rights for working people. But I remember well how tough it was when my uncles went on strike in the Shenango Valley mills when I was a boy and how they hoped that the hardships that the strikes imposed on their families would result not just in better days, but better years ahead.

Today, the corporate takeover of American life is very nearly complete. Executives take huge salaries and bonuses, while working to rescind the hard-won benefits of the people who actually make the things America exports. Working people have been diverted by divisive social issues like abortion and homosexual rights—the bread and circuses of today’s right-wing politicians--while the corporations have undermined the fundamental rights of workers to health care, job security, and a decent wage.

I can only hope that the current recession gives us pause to consider a new social morality that replaces the neo-conservative “gilded age” with a more humble commitment to social responsibility.