Working-Class Heroes is an organic melding of history, music, and politics that demonstrates with remarkably colorful evidence that workers everywhere will struggle to improve their conditions of life. And among them will be workers who share an insight: in order to better our lot, we must act collectively to change the world. Carefully curated by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore, this profusely illustrated treasury of song sheets, lyrics, photographs, histories, and biographical sketches explores the notion that our best hope lies in the capacity of ordinary working people to awaken to the need to emancipate ourselves and all of humanity.
Featuring over a dozen songwriters, from Joe Hill to Aunt Molly Jackson, Working-Class Heroes delivers a lyrical deathblow to the myth that so-called political songs of the twentieth century were all being written by intellectuals and outside agitators in New York. Many, like Ella May Wiggins, were literally murdered by the bosses. Others, like Sarah Ogan Gunning, watched their children starve to death and their husbands die of black lung, only to rise up singing against the system that caused so much misery. Their heroism resulted not from their being different from their fellow workers but from being the same.
Most of the songs collected here are from the early twentieth century, yet their striking relevance to current affairs invites us to explore the historical conditions that inspired their creation: deep, systemic crisis, advancing fascism, and the threat of world war. In the face of violent terror, these working-class songwriters bravely stood up to fight oppression. Such courage and heroism is immortal, such heroes should be celebrated and their songs can still lift our spirits, if we sing them today.
Heroes featured in this twenty-song collection: Sarah Ogan Gunning, Ralph Chaplin, Woody Guthrie, Ella May Wiggins, Joe Hill, Paul Robeson, John Handcox, Aunt Molly Jackson, Jim Garland, Alfred Hayes, Joseph Brandon, and several more anonymous proletarian songwriters whose names have been long forgotten, though their words are immortal.
- “This is one of the most captivating, intimate, no-holds-barred books of working-class history I have ever read. And it’s a songbook, too!” —David Rovics
- “The world needs more thinkers like Mat Callahan.” —Jared Soper, SLUG magazine