Chelmsford TUC

Working Class Culture

Trade Union & Political Songs

Singing has always formed an important part in the lives of working people. We hope you will enjoy this selection.


  • Union Maid (Woody Guthrie & the last verse Nancy Katz)
  • Union Songs Your link to nearly 600 songs, films, books and poems.

The International


Arise! ye starvelings from your slumbers, arise! ye criminals of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders, and at last end the age of cant.
Now away with all superstitions, servile masses arise! Arise!
We’ll change forthwith the old conditions, and spurn the dust to win the prize.


Then comrades, come rally and the last fight let us face.
The International unites the human race.
Then comrades, come rally and the last fight let us face.
The International unites the human race.

We peasants, artisans and others enrolled among the sons of toil.
Let’s claim the earth henceforth for brothers, drive the indolent from the soil.
On our flesh too long has fed the raven, we’ve too long been the vulture’s prey.
But now, farewell the spirit craven, the dawn brings in a brighter day.


JPG - 12 kb
Jim Connell

No saviour from on high delivers, no trust have we in prince or peer.
Our own right hand the chains must shiver, chains of hatred, of greed and fear.
Ere the thieves will out with their booty and to all give a happier lot.
Each at his forge must do his duty and strike the iron while it’s hot.


The Red Flag

Jim Connell

The people’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead.
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood dyed to every fold.


Then raise the scarlet standard high;
Beneath its shade we’ll live and die.
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow:-
We must not change its colour now.


It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.


It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place;
To cringe before the rich man’s frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.


With heads uncovered swear we all,
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.


These Things Shall Be

J.A. Symonds

These things shall be, A loftier race,
Than e’er the world hath known shall rise;
With flame of freedom in their souls,
And light of knowledge in their eyes.

They shall be gentle, brave and strong,
To spill no drop of blood, but dare
All that may plant man’s lordship firm,
On earth, and fire, and sea, and air.

Nation with nation, land with land,
Unarmed shall live as comrades free;
In ev’ry heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.

Man shall love man, with heart as pure
And fervent as the young-eyed throng
Who chant their heavenly psalms before
God’s face with undiscordant song.

New arts shall bloom of loftier mould,
And mightier music thrill the skies;
And ev’ry life shall be a song,
When all the earth is paradise.

Bandiera Rossa

Avanti popolo, a la rescossa;
Bandiera rossa, bandiera rossa.
Avanti popolo, a la rescossa;
Bandiera rossa trionfera.

Bandiera rossa trionfera
Bandiera rossa trionfera
Bandiera rossa trionfera,
Eviva communismo e liberta.

William Brown

Arthur Hagg

A nice young man was William Brown,
He worked for a wage in a Yorkshire town;
He turned a wheel from left to right,
From eight at morning till six at night.


Now keep that wheel a-turning
Keep that wheel a-turning
Keep that wheel a-turning
And do a little more each day.

The boss one day to William came.
’Look here’, he said, ’Young what’s your name.
We’re far from pleased with what you do;
So hurry that wheel or out you go!’


So William turned and he made her run
Three times round in the place of one.
He worked so hard he was quickly made
The Lord High Turner of his trade.


His fame spread wide o’er hill and dale.
His face appeared in the Daily Mail.
Cheap coach trips were organised
All to gaze at the lad’s blue eyes.


Still William turned with a saintly smile;
The goods he made grew such a pile.
They filled his room and the room next door
And overflowed to the basement floor.


But sad the sequel now to tell;
With profits raised the boss could sell
To take-over group from London Town.
The first redundant case was Brown!


Now he’s in the queue a-waiting,
He’s in the queue a-waiting,
He’s in the queue a-waiting,
And he gets a little thinner each day.


Now workers don’t be such a clown,
But take a tip from William Brown.
If you work too hard you’ll surely be
Wiser but poorer same as he.


For he’s in the queue a-waiting,
He’s in the queue a-waiting,
He’s in the queue a-waiting
And he gets a little thinner each day.

Hallelujah I’m a Bum

Harry McClintock

Oh, why don’t you work
Like other men do?
How in hell can I work
When there’s no work to do?


Hallelujah, I’m a bum!
Hallelujah, bum again!
Hallelujah, give us a handout to revive us again.

Oh, why don’t you save
All the money you earn?
If I did not eat
I’d have money to burn.


Oh, I like my boss -
He’s a good friend of mine;
That’s why I am starving
Out in the breadline.


I can’t buy a job
For I ain’t got the dough,
So I ride in a box-car
For I’m a hobo.


Whenever I get
All the money I earn
The boss will be broke
And to work he must turn.


The Peat-Bog Soldiers

Far and wide as the eye can wander,
Heath and bog are everywhere.
Not a bird sings out to cheer us,
Oaks are standing gaunt and bare.


We are the peat-bog soldiers;
We’re marching with our spades
To the moor.

Up and down the guards are pacing;
No one, no one, can go through.
Flight would mean a sure death facing,
Guns and barbed wire greet our view.


But for us there’s no complaining,
Winter will in time be past.
One day we shall cry rejoicing,
Homeland dear, you’re mine at last.

Then will the peat-bog soldiers
March no more with their spades
To the moor.


The Man that Waters the Workers’ Beer

Paddy Ryan


I’m the man, the very fat man, that waters the workers’ beer.
Yes, I’m the man, the very fat man, that waters the workers’ beer.
What do I care it makes them ill, or it makes them terribly queer?
I’ve a car, a yacht, and an aeroplane and I water the workers’ beer.

Now when I makes the workers’ beer I puts in strychinine;
Some methylated spirits and a drop of pariffine.
But since a brew so terribly strong might make them terribly queer;
I reaches my hand for the water tap and I waters the workers’ beer!


Now, ladies, fair, beyond compare, and be ye maid or wife.
Oh, sometimes lend a thought for me who leads a wand’ring life.
The water rates are shockingly high, and the ’meth’ is shockingly dear.
And there isn’t the profit there used to be in wat’ring the workers’ beer!


Union Maid

Woody Guthrie: last verse Nancy Katz

There once was a union maid who never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs that made the raid
She went to the union hall, when a meeting it was called,
And when the company boys came around she always stood her ground.


Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union;
I’m sticking to the union, I’m sticking to the union,
Oh, you can’t scare me I’m sticking to the union,
I’m sticking to the union ’til the day I die.

The union maid was wise to the tricks of the company spies;
She never got fooled by a company stool, she’d always organise the guys.
She’d always get her way when she struck for higher pay;
She’d show her card to the company guard and this is what she’d say;


You gals who want to be free just take a little tip from me:
Get you a man who’s a union man and join the Ladies Auxiliary;
Married life ain’t hard when you’ve got a union card,
A union man has a happy life when he’s got a union wife.


A woman’s struggle is hard, even with a union card;
She’s got to stand on her own two feet and not be a servant of a male elite.
It’s time to take a stand, keep working hand in hand,
There is a job that’s got to be done, and a fight that’s got to be won.


Joe Hill

Alfred Hayes

I dream’d I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me,
Says I "But Joe, you’re ten years dead!"
"I never died", says he.
"I never died", says he.

"In Salt Lake Joe, by God", says I,
Him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge."
Says Joe, "But I ain’t dead".
Says Joe, "But I ain’t dead".

"The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe," says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man",
Says Joe, "I didn’t die".
Says Joe, "I didn’t die".

And standing there as big as life,
And smiling with his eyes,
Joe says, "What they forgot to kill
Went on to organise.
Went on to organise".

"Joe Hill ain’t dead," he says to me,
"Joe Hill ain’t never died.
Where working men are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side.
Joe Hill is at their side".

"From San Diego up to Maine,
In every mine and mill,
Where workers strike and organise",
Says he, "You’ll find Joe Hill".
Says he, "You’ll find Joe Hill".

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me.
Says I, "But, Joe, you’re ten years dead".
"I never died" says he.
"I never died" says he. (softly)

Song to the Men of England

P.B. Shelley

Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed, and clothe, and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat - nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.

Sow seed, - but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth, - let no impostor heap;
Weave robes, - let not the idle wear;
Forge arms, - in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells;
In halls ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought?
Ye see The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade, and hoe and loom,
Trace your grave, and build your tomb,
And weave your winding sheet, till fair
England be your sepulchre.


Victor Jara

I don’t sing for love of singing
or to show off my voice
but for the statements
made by my honest guitar
for its heart is of the earth
and like the dove it goes flying....
endlessly as holy water
blessing the brave and the dying
so my song has found a purpose
as Violet Parra would say.

Yes, my guitar is a worker
shining and smelling of spring
my guitar is not for killers
greedy for money and power
but for the people who labour
so that the future may flower.
For a song takes on a meaning
when its own heart beat is strong
sung by a man who will die singing
truthfully singing his song.

I don’t care for adulation
or so that strangers may weep.
I sing for a far strip of country
narrow but endlessly deep.

Prayer to a Labourer

Victor Jara

Stand up
Look at the mountain
Source of the wind, the sun, the water -
You who change the course of rivers,
Who with the seed sows the flight of your soul.
Stand up
Look at your hands
Take your brother’s hand
So you can grow.
We’ll go together, united by blood,
The future can begin today.
Deliver us from the master who keeps us in misery.
Thy kingdom of justice and equality come.
Blow, like the wind blows,
the wild flower of the mountain pass.
Clean the barrel of my gun like fire.

Stand up
Look at your hands.
Take your brother’s hand so you can grow.
We’ll go together, united by blood.
Now and in the hour of our death. Amen.

The Socialist A.B.C.

Alex Glasgow

When that I was a little tiny boy,
Me daddy said to me,
’The time has come, me bonny bonny bairn
To learn your ABC’.

Now daddy was a Lodge Chairman
In the coalfields of the Tyne,
And that ABC was different
From the Enid Blyton kind.

He sang;

A is for Alienation that made me the man that I am
and B’s for the Boss, who’s a bastard, a bourgeois who don’t give a damn.

C is for Capitalism, the boss’s reactionary creed,
and D’s for Dictatorship, laddie, but the best proletarian breed.

E is for Exploitation, that the workers have suffered so long;
and F is for old Ludwig Feuerbach, the first one to see it was wrong.

G is for all Gerrymanderers, like Lord Muck and Sir Whatsisname,
and H is the Hell that they’ll go to, when the workers have kindled the flame.

I is for Imperialism, and America’s kind is the worst,
and J is for sweet Jingoism, that the Tories all think of first.

K is for good old Keir Hardie, who fought out the working class fight
and L is for Vladimir Lenin, who showed him the Left was all right.

M is of course for Karl Marx, the daddy and the mammy of them all,
and N is for Nationalisation, without it we’d crumble and fall.

O is for Overproduction that capitalist economy brings,
and P is for Private Property, the greatest of all of the sins.

Q is for the Quid pro quo, that we’ll deal out so well and so soon,
when R for Revolution is shouted and the Red Flag becomes the top tune.

S is for sad Stalinism, that gave us all such a bad name,
and T is for Trotsky the hero, who had to take all of the blame.

U’s for the Union of workers, the Union will stand to the end,
and V is for Vodka, yes, Vodka, the one drink that don’t bring the bends.

W is for all Willing workers, and that’s where the memory fades,
for X, Y and Z, me dear daddy said, will be written on the street barricades.

But now that I’m not a little tiny boy,
Me daddy says to me,
’Please try to forget the things I said,
Especially the ABC.’

For daddy’s no longer a Union man,
And he’s had to change his plea.
His alphabet is different now,
Since they made him a Labour MP.

The World Turned Upside Down

Leon Rosselson

In 1649 to St. George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the people’s will,
They defied the landlords, they defied the laws,
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.

’We come in peace’ they said, ’to dig and sow,
We come to work the lands in common and to make the waste grounds grow,
This Earth divided we will make whole
So it will be a common treasury for all.

The sin of property we do disdain,
No man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain,
By theft and murder they took the land,
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command.

They make the laws to chain us well,
The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell,
We will not worship the god they serve,
The god of greed who feeds the rich while poor men starve.

We work, we eat together, we need no swords,
We will not bow to the masters or pay rent to the lords,
We are free men, though we are poor,
You Diggers all stand up for glory, stand up now!’

From the men of property the orders came,
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers’ claim,
Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn.
They were dispersed. Only the vision lingers on.

You poor take courage! You rich take care!
This Earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share,
All things in common, all people one.
We come in peace. The orders came to cut them down.

The Ballad of Harriet Tubman

Woody Guthrie

I was five years old in Bucktown Maryland
When into slavery I was sent
I’ll tell you of the beatings and of the fighting
In my ninety-three years I’ve spent

I helped a field hand make a run for freedom
When my fifteenth year was rolling round
And the guard he caught him in a little store
In a little slavery village town

The boss made a grab to catch the field hand
I jumped in and blocked the door
The boss he hit me with a two pound scale iron
And I went black down on the floor

On a bundle of rags in our log cabin
My mother she ministered unto my needs
It was here I swore I¹d give my life blood
Just to turn my people free.

In ’44 I married John Tubman
Well I loved him well till ’49
But he would not come and fight beside me
So I left him there behind

I left Bucktown with my two brothers
But they got scared and run back home
I followed my northern star of freedom
I walked the grass and trees alone

I slept in a barn loft and in a haystack
I slept with my people in slavery shacks
They said I’d die by the bossman’s bullets
But I told them I can’t turn back

The sun was shining in the early morning
When I come to my free state line
I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming
I just could not believe my eyes

I went back home and I got my parents
I loaded them into a buckboard hag
We crossed six states and other slaves followed
Up to Canada we made our tracks

One slave got scared and he tried to turn backwards
I pulled my pistol in front of his eyes
I said get up and walk to your freedom
Or by this fireball you will die

When John Brown hit them at Harper’s Ferry
My men was fighting right by his side
When John Brown swung upon his gallows
It was then I hung my head and cried

Give the black man guns and give him powder
To Abe Lincoln this I said
You¹ve just crippled that snake of slavery
We¹ve got to fight to kill him dead

When we faced the guns of lightning
And the thunders broke our sleep
After we waded the bloody rainstorms
It was dead men that we reaped

Yes we faced the zigzag lightning
But it was worth the price we paid
When our thunder had rumbled over
We¹d laid slavery in it’s grave

Come now and stand around my deathbed
And I will sing some spirit songs
I’m my way to my greater union
Now my ninety-three years are gone.