The Labor Movement


Steve Earle: Seeing the mistreatment of his people, Woody dove into the labor movement, working and singing for the Congress of Industrial Organizations—the CIO—and the agricultural unions. Through his music, he gave the people who felt voiceless a platform and a voice.

Woody Guthrie: At the age of about four or five years old, a long time before I was in school, I remember my dad used to teach me little political speeches and rhymes. And I’d climb up in a hay wagon around at all the political meetings and rallies they had on the streets, and I’d make my little speeches. And uh, it might be that I’ve turned out now that where I don’t believe the speeches anymore and make speeches just the opposite.

Steve Earle: Woody wrote hundreds of songs for the American workers, criss-crossing the country, singing and fundraising for them wherever he could. He read voraciously, developing a worldview that enabled him to see the bigger picture—one that forged a fellowship between the migrants in the fields and the miners in the mines.

Woody Guthrie: The government mining inspector made several trips down to this mine, called Centralia No. 5, as you well remember. The government inspector said that, uh, that mine was so full of fumes that it was gonna blow up any day because the miners was working down there with open lights on their caps, on their la…on their mining caps. So, the mine owner laughed at him, and he didn’t want to spend the money to put in a cleaning system, so he said, “Well,” said, “If you’ll quit sending your inspectors down inside of my mines, you’ll quit finding anything wrong with them.” So, that’s the kind of human brains that just so happens to control the lives of several hundred thousand miners, and not in Nazi Germany, but right here, hundred or two miles from here or less.