For The Workers-Together We Are Strong. Part 3

Posted: January 16, 2015 in for your reflection

This is Part 3 of our series a musical tribute appropriation collage to workers every where.

Memorial to the workers in at Hold Cross Catholic Cemetery, Fresno California

Let’s start with a very sad event in our workers stories. That of the plane crash filled with migrant workers in Los Gatos California on January 28, 1948. The genesis of the song reportedly occurred when Woody Guthrie was struck by the fact that radio and newspaper coverage of the Los Gatos plane crash did not give the victims’ names, but instead referred to them merely as “deportees.” For example, none of the deportees’ names were printed in the January 29, 1948 New York times report, only those of the flight crew and the security guard. This song not only speaks to the attitudes of Americans towards migrant workers but also about the government programs of destroying food when so many people were hungry.

In 2010 California poet Tim Z. Hernandez embarked on a mission of research into records to find out who were these nameless deportees were. After two years of research he came up with the names. (1 )

This excellent video tells the story of researching to find the names of and to honor these workers.

The names of the 28 Mexican citizens:

– Miguel Negrete Álvarez, – Tomás Aviña de Gracia, – Francisco Dúran Llamas, – Santiago Elizondo Garcia

– Rosalio Padilla Estrada, – Tomás Márquez Padilla, – Bernabé Garcia López, – Salvador Hernández Sandoval

– Severo Lára Medina,- Elias Macias Trujillo, – José Macias Rodriguez, – Luis Medina López, – Manuel Merino Calderón

– Luis Miranda Cuevas, – Martin Razo Navarro, – Ignacio Navarro Pérez, – Román Ochoa Ochoa,  Ramon Paredes Gonzalez

– Guadalupe Ramirez Lára, – Apolonio Placencia Ramirez,- Alberto Carlos Raygoza,- Guadalupe Rodriguez

– Maria Rodriguez Santana.- Juan Ruiz Valenzuela,- Wenceslao Ruiz Flores,- Jóse Valdivia Sánchez,- Jésus Santos Meza

– Baldomero Marcos Torres,

Pilot: Captain Frank Atkinson,Copilot: Marion Ewing, Flight Attendant: Bobbie Atkinson,Immigration Guard: Frank E. Chaffin

Deportee sung by Arlo Guthrie.

Plowing and Hoeing Songs of Ancient Egypt.

Plowing, Hoeing and Harvesting on the walls of the tomb of Paheri.

The plowing and hoeing songs are known from two New Kingdom tombs in Upper Egypt. The words of the songs seem to divide into call and response sequences. ( 2 )

The Plowing Song

We do (it).

Look! Do not fear for the fields! They are very good!

How good is what you say, my boy!

A good year is free from trouble.

All the fields are healthy. The calves are the best!

The Hoeing Song

I shall do more than my work for the nobleman!

My friend, hurry up with the work, and let us finish in good time.

The Harvest Song

A part song:

This fine day goes forth on the Land.

The northern breeze has risen.

The sky does our desire.

Our work binds our desires.

Translated by Edward Bleiberg .

A plowing song in the tomb of Paheri is written above a group of workers sowing seed and plowing with oxen. A leader stands behind one of the plows with his own columns of text arranged near him. The arrangement of text and image here is clearer to modern eyes. The leader sings, “Hurry, the front guides the cattle. Look! The mayor stands watching.” The three men and the boy near the cattle reply, “A beautiful day is a cool one when the cattle drag (the plow). The sky does our desire while we work for the nobleman.” Such a song reveals the main purpose for depicting these scenes in a tomb in the first place; by depicting the sequence of growing crops and eager workers, the deceased ensures that he will have adequate food supplies in the next world.

Native American Corn Dance Song is a Cherokee folk song sung by Walker Calhoun of Cherokee, North Carolina at the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music 10-26-90…..


Call and Response Work Songs.

This is a type of singing which a melody sung by one singer is responded to or echoed by one or more singers. In African cultures a call and response is is a pattern of democratic participation and it was this tradition that slaves brought with them to americkkka. Call and response singing was used by many as they worked the fields, the mines, the railroad and on the chain gangs.

plantation-hoeing-1867 2

Plantation hoeing 1876  by Granger.

Hoe Emma Hoe

Work songs have been used for centuries to uplift the spirit of people who are performing labor. Work songs were very common in the south with African Americans who were working in harsh conditions. The songs helped to coordinate movements, raise morale and gather group strength to perform work more effectively and efficiently. Some say that by singing it made the burden lighter but a burden is still a burden. This blog firmly stands for reparations for all ancestors of slaves in the United States. We stand firmly against the racist system of the United States, a country founded on slavery of the African people and genocide of the peoples of the First Nations.

Working on the chain gang.

Chain gangs were groups of convicts forced to labor at tasks such as road construction, ditch digging, or farming while chained together. Some chain gangs toiled at work sites near the prison, while others were housed in transportable jails such as railroad cars or trucks.


Truck System Wages = WAGE THEFT!

This is not a song extolling the virtues of “hard work,” it’s about how corporations exploited the hell out of their workers. The line, “I owe my soul to the company store”, is a reference to the truck system and to debt bondage. Under this scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings. Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. In the United States the truck system and associated debt bondage persisted until the strikes of the newly formed United Mine Workers and affiliated unions forced an end to such practices.

naked boat trackers

A work song of Boat Trackers in Si Chuan Province

This amazing song sung by boat trackers in the Si Chuaj Province in China. The music keeps the workers together in the actions they are carrying out and keeps them in constant communication with each other. They both use whatever they can around them to create the music while they are working. Neither requires extraneous instruments which would require ceased work to play. The boat tracker song includes some bits of improvisation. Before boats had motors laborers know as Boat Trackers hauled them by hand using heavy ropes up the Shennong River. Being naked was practical as wet clothes restricted movement. Over the years the tradition waned as trackers began wearing clothes to haul tourist boats. (3)

Boat tracker refers to the people who make a living by towing boats. They drag boats full of passengers, coals, woods, agricultural materials and daily commodity alongside the Yangtze River.

LicienceToView_Ticket 2

Licence to view boat tracking.

Boat Tracking as a tourist attraction.

In the late 1980s the Shennong Stream of Bandong began to engage in the development of tourism, towing a boat by trackers because the biggest selling point of tourist attraction. If you are in a boat floating in the Shennong River you can see a queue of trackers towing the boats. Boat trackers are no longer the most important element in three-gorge navigation because modern technology mechanization now move boats. There was hardly any boat trackers in the Three Gorges by 1980. However boat tracking culture is well-preserved through tourism and it has a brand new look. Most boat trackers today wear clothing. In 2010 it was suggested by the Deputy Part Secretary, Yao Benchi at a local people congress that a return to nude tracking would turn Shennong into a major tourist attraction. The Trackers themselves are all for it as lead hauler Zhang Houfang said in an interview, “So long as there is a demand for this from tourists and they are willing to pay, the majority of road haulers are happy to haul boats in the nude. Tourists and photographers find it more interesting.”

Sweat Shops

words and vocals by Chris Clemens, music by Ian Sampson 2010

Many workplaces through history have been crowded, dangerous, low-paying and without job security; but the concept of a sweatshop originated between 1830 and 1850 as a specific type of workshop in which a certain type of middleman, the sweater, directed others in garment making (the process of producing clothing) under arduous conditions. The terms sweater for the middleman and sweat system for the process of subcontracting piecework were used in early critiques like Charles Kingsley‘s Cheap Clothes and Nasty, written in 1850, which described conditions in London, England. The workplaces created for the sweating system, a system of subcontracting in the tailoring trade were called sweatshops and might contain only a few workers or as many as 100 or more. (4 )

and no Sweatshops are not just shops of the history book. In a report issued in 1994, the United States Government Accountability Office found that there were still thousands of sweatshops in the United States, using a definition of a sweatshop as any “employer that violates more than one federal or state labor law governing minimum wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation, or industry registration”.

Nike just one big offender

again and again we see the exploitation of workers for the rich to make bigger bucks and for the people to be hip and groovy.

Wage Theft.

WAGE THEFT is when employers illegally withhold workers’ pay by refusing to pay for hours  withholding final paychecks when workers leave a job. Workers whose wages are stolen often keep silent for fear their hours will be cut or they’ll be fired. But even when violations are reported, state laws give the victims little opportunity to seek justice and little protection from retaliation. Wage theft not only costs its victims thousands of dollars per year, it costs state and local governments—and the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance funds—millions of dollars every year.

Wage theft affects millions of workers across the country. A comprehensive national study1 by the National Employment Law Project and other organizations documented shocking levels of wage theft:

64% of low-wage workers experience wage theft each week;

26% are paid under the legal minimum wage;

76% of workers owed overtime go unpaid or underpaid; and

On average, low-wage workers lose $51 per week to wage theft, or $2,634 per year.

By any measure, wage theft in America is threatening to become a defining trend of the 21st century labor market. In the past year alone, workers recovered tens of millions of dollars in unpaid wages from their employers in a range of industries. For example, Staples paid $42 million in illegally underpaid wages to its assistant store managers, New Jersey truck delivery drivers received $2 million in an unpaid overtime settlement, Walmart settled an unpaid wages case for $35 million in Washington State, and New York car wash workers received $3.5 million in unpaid overtime.

For more on Wage theft see:

Winning Wage Justice: An Advocate’s Guide To State and City Policies to Fight Wage Theft.

The Movement to End Wage Theft.

So concludes our 3 part series in a tribute to workers on this note:


( 1)  Ghosts of the Canyon: Plane Crash Mystery Solved After 65 Years, written by Jacqueline Santillan Beighley about Mr. Hernardez’s research.

(2) Work Songs from Paheri’s Tomb. Excellent article.

(3) Boat Tracking

(4) Sweatshops from Wikipedia

(5) Anti-Sweatshop Organizations as listed.


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