Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits — Music for Labor Day

Today we are play­ing music for Labor Day in the Unit­ed States, and it’s inter­est­ing to look at the ori­gins of this hol­i­day: much of the rest of the world recog­nis­es May Day (May 1st) instead as the day to cel­e­brate labour.

Accord­ing to Wikipedia, “The first Labor Day in the Unit­ed States was cel­e­brat­ed on Sep­tem­ber 5, 1882 in New York City. It became a fed­er­al hol­i­day in 1894, when, fol­low­ing the deaths of a num­ber of work­ers at the hands of the U.S. mil­i­tary and U.S. Mar­shals dur­ing the Pull­man Strike, Pres­i­dent Grover Cleve­land put rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the labour move­ment as a top polit­i­cal pri­or­i­ty. The Sep­tem­ber date was cho­sen as Cleve­land was con­cerned that align­ing an Amer­i­can labour hol­i­day with exist­ing inter­na­tion­al May Day cel­e­bra­tions would stir up neg­a­tive emo­tions linked to the Hay­mar­ket mas­sacre. All 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state hol­i­day.

The form for the cel­e­bra­tion of Labor Day was out­lined in the first pro­pos­al of the hol­i­day: A street parade to exhib­it to the pub­lic ‘the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor orga­ni­za­tions,’ fol­lowed by a fes­ti­val for the work­ers and their fam­i­lies. This became the pat­tern for Labor Day cel­e­bra­tions. Speech­es by promi­nent men and women were intro­duced lat­er, as more empha­sis was placed upon the eco­nom­ic and civ­il sig­nif­i­cance of the hol­i­day.”

Today we’ll be play­ing a col­lec­tion of work­ers’ songs going back a hun­dred years, pri­mar­i­ly sourced from Britain and the Unit­ed States, includ­ing a sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion of archive record­ings, such as The Land Song, a Geor­gist and lat­er Lib­er­al Par­ty song from the 19th cen­tu­ry, and record­ings issued by Lans­bury’s Labour Week­ly in 1927 (British Labour Par­ty MP George Lans­bury is seen here, address­ing a meet­ing). In addi­tion­al we will hear a num­ber of protest songs includ­ing some unique mate­r­i­al from the Wom­en’s Suf­frage move­ment in the US.

Top­ic Records are par­tic­u­lar­ly well-rep­re­sent­ed in today’s pro­gramme: this year they cel­e­brate 70 years with a mul­ti-CD set called Three Score Years And Ten, some of which we’ll hear today. We would like to have includ­ed the Top­ic archive record­ing of Edward Car­pen­ter’s Eng­land Arise for choir, but all we could find is a solo piano and vocal ver­sion (one of the Lans­bury record­ings above), and the Vaugh­an Williams choral ver­sion which has a very dif­fer­ent tune. Can you sug­gest a source?

Today’s pro­gramme is pre­sent­ed by Elrik Mer­lin and pro­duced by Radio Riel in con­junc­tion with the Alexan­dri­an Free Library Con­sor­tium of Sec­ond Life. You can lis­ten to the pro­gramme now at http://loudcity.com/stations/radio-riel/tune_in; out­side the US, tune to http://main.radioriel.org in-world, or sim­ply click here if your brows­er is con­fig­ured to launch a play­er auto­mat­i­cal­ly.
For more infor­ma­tion on the Alexan­dri­an Free Library, cur­rent exhibits and the work of Con­sor­tium mem­bers in gen­er­al, please vis­it the Alexan­dri­an Free Library web­site, or one of their branch­es in-world.
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