Saturday, February 5, 2011

Music for workers

When writing courses, I often dig up far more material than can be included. A new version of Athabasca University’s IDRL 201 (Labour Unions) ought to be available this summer and it includes a heavy video component. To make the course manageable, I left out a fair bit of union- and work-related music that I came across.

Before dumping my files, I thought I’d post some of my favourites. Tppping the list (from a pedagogical perspective) is Dolly Parton’s classic 9 to 5. Dolly doesn’t feature on my iPod ever but few songs speak so clearly to the exploitation inherent in the employment relationship. I could not find a version with footage from the movie but I did find this strange Disney version. I wonder if Disney understood the content of the lyrics before they shot this?

Musically similar but less nuanced is Johnny Paycheque’s classic Take this job and shove it (a favourite of my father). While the song isn’t really all that insightful, the video below contains pictures of the destruction wrought by a laid off worker upon his employer in Hinton, Alberta. This speaks to the different forms of power workers and employers have. Yeah, the worker got fired. But dang, was it an expensive termination for his employer!

A more nuanced look at the experience of blue collar workers is Bruce Springsteen’s Factory. While the song dates from the 1970s, it still rings true of contemporary blue collar work suggesting not all that much has changed (for workers) in our alleged post-Fordist world.

More contemporary is Big Sugar’s All hell for a basement, written about workers relocating to Fort McMurray. The video below contains a series of images focusing on well testing in Alberta. Raw footage of workers doing their jobs is uncommon which is why I chose the video below. The lyrics also speak to the psychological effects of prolonged unemployment.

There is a fairly large catalogue of songs about miners and the effects of mining on workers. A fairly evocative song about the effects of mining on workers is Black lung. This version is sung by Hazel Dickens.

A more modern take on a similar issue (asbestosis) is Blue sky mine by Midnight Oil.

As a child of the ‘80s, I also feel compelled to include Styx's Blue collar man. Not really lyrically insightful but I cannot get enough of the gimmicky keyboards in this song, the leather pants everyone is wearing and the wicked mullet the guy in the blue coat is wearing (is that Dennis DeYoung? I must dig out my copy of Desert Moon).

I wonder what this sounds like now that Gowan is fronting Styx?

-- Bob Barnetson

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to an eagle-eyed viewer, the Gowan/Styx question can be answered by viewing this: .

    The spinning piano is particularly hilarious--I recall one from a show he did a SAIT several years (well, 15) back.