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ABOUT OUR SONGBOOK

Dave Sherryby Dave Sherry,
Branch Committee


Woody Guthrie’s Deportee highlights the plight of refugees and the maltreatment of immigrant labour in America during the great depression. Its message rings out to us today as both the British government and fortress Europe turn their backs back on those fleeing war and terror in the Middle East. 

Another song included from the great depression – The Banks are Made of Marble – could well have been written about the banks and corporations, whose casino economics brought us to the present recession and are being bailed out at our expense.

There are songs that celebrate some of the giants of the international labour movement, like Paul Robeson’s tribute to union organiser Joe Hill and Hamish Henderson’s other song on our list, The John Maclean March. Hamish song celebrates the courage of the greatest of the Red Clydesiders and his continuing relevance in a world wracked by war. There’s also a fine German song about the murder of another great anti-war socialist, Rosa Luxemburg.

There are sad songs that will break your heart – like The Blantyre Explosion. It tells of a mining disaster in the Lanarkshire coalfield. The Ballad of Tim Evans recounts a terrible miscarriage of justice that eventually led to the repeal of the death penalty in Britain.

Humour is a great weapon –provided its in the right hands and directed against the real enemy – all those dirty so and sos who rob us of the wealth we produce. Our songbook is not short of funny songs written at the expense of the rich, the powerful and the pompous.

Some examples are: The Wee, Magic Stane; The Preacher and the Slave; Hallelujah, I’m a Bum; and Matt McGinn’s classic - Three Nights and a Sunday Double Time.

When it comes to writing humourous, political songs, former Tyneside socialist Alex Glasgow was one the better exponents. His song, As Soon As This Pub Closes, should serve as a warning to all those with good intentions. So we end with an excerpt from his cautionary tale about the pitfalls of holding meetings in pubs:


“I could have done it yesterday if I hadn't a cold,
But since I've put this pint away I've never felt so bold.
So as soon as this pub closes, as soon as this pub closes,
As soon as this pub closes, the revolution starts.
Pete Seeger, the iconic singer-songwriter and political activist, once said; ‘A good song reminds us of what we are fighting for’.

Our Unite songbook contains 42 good songs that Pete would be proud of. They’ll take you on a musical journey through the history of resistance to oppression and exploitation - from the time of Robert Burns and the weavers right up to the present day.

The songbook covers different eras, different struggles and different parts of the world. The majority of our material comes from Scotland, England, Ireland and the USA – reflecting the roots of the popular transatlantic, folk tradition. But there are songs too, about Cuba, Spain, Italy, Germany and Vietnam.

There are songs that celebrate workers’ internationalism – notably the Internationale and Hamish Henderson’s great Freedom Come All Ye. Recently proposed as an alternative to Flower of Scotland or Scotland the Brave, Hamish preferred to see his song as an international anthem.

There are anti –war songs, like Tim Hardin’s song about Vietnam, Lets Sing a Simple Song of Freedom. We include some anti-recruitment songs and two little ditties that celebrate the opposition to the siting of nuclear weapons on the Clyde – still a hot topic today.

There are songs that expose American imperialism - like Anthem to Che Guevarra and Ewan McColl’s The Ballad of the Big Cigars. There are anti-fascist and anti racist songs like Christy Moore’s Viva La Quinte Brigada.

Many of the songs put across an uncompromising political message about the day-to day struggles of ordinary working people; about the right to organise and form trade unions; and the constant battle against low wages and lousy working conditions – songs like The Jute Mill Song, It it Wisnae for the Union and McAlpine’s Fusiliers

There are songs celebrating the struggles of working women and their fight for equality and respect. Bread and Roses is about a textile workers’ strike in the USA that inspired the founding of International Working Women’s Day. We Are Women, We are Strong is all about the key role women played during the great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85.