American Labor
Song About the U.S. Labor Movement
Adam Havlicek: Musical Media for Education

  Listen to this song.

This song is available on Musical Media for Education's Volume 1 and Teaching Guide.

This learning song is about the rise of unions in the second half of the 19th Century. Also covered are the main reasons that unions had limited success during that period.

12 hours a day, there's no reason
I have no say, nor do my children

We stand today, against indifference
For better pay, despite resistance

We will not give in, not this time
There is nothing left, but our pride

The day has come, for our inclusion
We have the right, to form a union

The Civil War, has finally ended
The working class, has ascended

We will not give in, not this time
We have to prevent, our decline

The movement unfolds, as unions surface
We can't unite, in common purpose

Soldiers shoot at us, with their rifles
Innocents die, but not their struggle

We will not give in, not this time
We can not forget, those who've died.


With each song, the Musical Media for Education, Volume 1, CD and Teaching Guide includes:
      1) A lyric sheet, enabling students to follow the song more easily.
      2) Suggested lesson activities
      3) Lyrical Footnotes. The narrative footnotes enrich student understanding with supplemental information and supporting commentary. The footnotes also suggest additional teaching possibilities.


       This song concentrates on the early period of the American Labor movement, roughly from the end of the Civil War (1865) through World War I (1914).

       12 hours a day:  Most factory workers in the early industrial period worked a 12 hour day, 6 days a week. There were no vacations. Work conditions were extremely unsafe in many industries. Between 1890 and 1917, for example, more than 2 million railroad
workers were injured on the job. 230,000 were killed during the same time period, greater than the losses in most American wars.

       For better pay:  Average pay for factory workers was $3-12 per week compared to average weekly expenses for a family of 6 of $18 per week..Most workers had a hard time making ends meet.

       Despite resistance:  Generally, large business owners opposed unions, and acted aggressively to prevent workers from organizing.

       To form a union:  The first major unions emerged toward the end of the 19th Century (the Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor [AFL]).Unions did not win a legally protected right to bargain collectively (negotiate contracts) until the 1930's.

       The working class has ascended:  The number of factory workers rose dramatically during the Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the Civil War (1861) there were 1.5 million factory workers in the United States.By 1900 that number had risen to 3.5 million.

       We can't unite in common purpose:  A serious weakness of the early labor movement was the disunity caused by craft unionism and ethnic separatism. As craft unions, the first labor unions excluded unskilled workers. The American Federation of Labor and Knights of Labor both refused to accept industrial workers, weakening the labor movement as a whole by shutting out millions of workers. Immigrant workers, speaking different languages and bonding together in their own ethnic groups, also made it difficult to unify the labor movement. Discrimination against African-American workers in several large unions further eroded labor unity.

       Soldiers shoot at us with their rifles:  The U.S. government, in the late 19th Century, sided with management against the emerging labor movement. At times this meant the use of force against striking workers, as was the case during the Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Pullman Strike in Chicago (1894). Private armed groups such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency ("Pinkertons") were also hired by management to maintain order and combat unionists.


This song is available on Musical Media for Education's Volume 1 and Teaching Guide.

Many thanks to Musical Media for Education for permission to display these lyrics and lessons.
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