Friday, June 9, 2017

Labour & Pop Culture: King Harvest

This week’s installment of Labour & Pop Culture is “King Harvest” by The Band. This is a complicated song about the complicated relationship between farmworkers (I think specifically sharecroppers, who work the land of others and give up a portion of their crop in payment) and unions.

The song details the difficulties the farmer has had:
Last year, this time, wasn't no joke,
My whole barn went up in smoke
Our horse Jethro, well he went mad
And I can't remember things bein' that bad
A union organizer appears offering some way to level the playing field:
Then there comes a man with a paper and a pen
Tellin' us our hard times are about to end
And then, if they don't give us what we like
He said, "Men, that's when you gotta go on strike"
But will the union be able to overcome the power of the landowners?

Historically, land owners in the American south responded to sharecropper unions with violent repression, reflecting both the economic threat posed by the unions and the racist history of the region (many sharecroppers were black). Eventually, mechanization provided landlords with a more efficient way to farm large tracts and sharecropping disappeared.




Corn in the fields
Listen to the rice when the wind blows 'cross the water
King Harvest has surely come

I work for the union 'cause she's so good to me
And I'm bound to come out on top
That's where she said I should be
I will hear every word the boss may say
For he's the one who hands me down my pay
Looks like this time I'm gonna get to stay
I'm a union man, now, all the way

The smell of the leaves,
From the magnolia trees in the meadow
King Harvest has surely come

Dry summer, then comes fall,
Which I depend on most of all
Hey, rainmaker, can't you hear the call?
Please let these crops grow tall

Long enough I've been up on Skid Row
And it's plain to see, I've nothing to show
I'm glad to pay those union dues,
Just don't judge me by my shoes

Scarecrow and a yellow moon,
And pretty soon a carnival on the edge of town
King Harvest has surely come

Last year, this time, wasn't no joke,
My whole barn went up in smoke
Our horse Jethro, well he went mad
And I can't remember things bein' that bad

Then there comes a man with a paper and a pen
Tellin' us our hard times are about to end
And then, if they don't give us what we like
He said, "Men, that's when you gotta go on strike"

Corn in the fields
Listen to the rice when the wind blows 'cross the water
King Harvest has surely come

-- Bob Barnetson

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