Saturday, 22 July 2017

But the Banks are made of Marble.

I felt the need to cheer myself up after a tough week - I listened to a famous old 'Wobbly' song - The Banks are made of Marble'.

The 'Wobblies' were a militant American Trades Union that was founded by the legendary 'Big' Bill Haywood amongst others in 1904.

Haywood was also a legend of the old wild west; born in Salt Lake City, his father was a Pony Express Rider and Haywood himself took part in one of the last ever wagon trains. He also ended up working in the Colorado copper mines at a period of violent Labour disputes.

He became a trades unionist and at well over six feet tall he was soon in demand on the picket lines.

In 1905 Haywood spoke at the founding Congress of the Industrial Workers of the World, sharing a platform with Eugene Debs of The Socialist Party and 'Mother Jones' of The United Mineworkers Union of America.

The I.W.W. was to be a 'new' union; fighting for a new society by organising all workers into 'One Big Union'. This was at a time when most unions limited their members to white craft workers and excluded any unskilled workers or anyone from ethnic minorities.

The I.W.W. made a point of recruiting ethnic minorities and treating them equally. They organised the Pullman workers.

It was particularly successful in winning members of the Chinese community although many of them were unable to pronounce 'Industrial Workers of the World'. When they started calling the union the 'Wobblies', it caught on.

The Wobblies were followers of Syndicalism which had developed in France and Italy. It travelled as far as Britain where The National Union of Railwaymen were won over and their constitution long had a clause committing the Union to the establishment of socialism and winning it through the General Strike.

The Wobblies were militantly anti capitalist and pioneered riding railway freightcars as a means of getting free transport. This way their organisers moved up and down the country. They had a rich culture of songs and poems too.

The Wobblies didn't stand by when the Coal Bosses or the Copper Barons used violence against strikers either. When the bosses hired Pinkerton agents to shoot down strikers, the Union shot back.

They weren't pacifists - they stood proudly in the tradition of 'The Molly Maguires'.

In 1907 Big Bill Haywood successfully fought off a false murder charge with the help of the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

The Wobblies soon had millions of members and supporters.

That was to change with the arrival of the First World War and the creation of the FBI to destroy them. Haywood was to be convicted of trumped up charges under the Espionage Act and with failing health he skipped bail and went on the run.

Haywood ended up in the Soviet Union where he died. Half his ashes are buried in the Kremlin Wall, the other half near the Chicago Haymarket Martyrs Monument.

Anyway, this is 'The Banks are made of Marble', one of the most famous Wobbly songs and as relevant today as it was when it was written;

I've travelled round this country
From shore to shining shore.
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw.

I saw the weary farmer,
Plowing sod and loam;
I heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the farmer sweated for.

I saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore.
I heard the bosses saying,
Got no work for you no more.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the seaman sweated for.

I saw the weary miner,
Scrubbing coal dust from his back,
I heard his children cryin',
Got no coal to heat the shack.

But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the miner sweated for.

I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land;
I prayed we'd get together,
And together make a stand.

[Final Chorus:]
Then we'd own those banks of marble,
With a guard at every door;
And we'd share those vaults of silver,
That we have sweated for.

Neil Harris
(a don't stop till you drop production)
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