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Graduate Labor Union choir builds solidarity through song

“We’re gonna roll, we’re gonna roll, we’re gonna roll the union on,” sang a group of more than 20 University of Maryland graduate students marching arm in arm through The Clarice Performing Arts Center the evening of Nov. 8. The singers are a group of UMD graduate students who learn and practice singing popular union songs. The choir is affiliated with the Graduate Labor Union, a graduate student organization lobbying for collective bargaining rights for graduate workers at UMD. After Mann informed the crowd about the origins of the song, “Roll the Union On” by union organizer John Handcox in the 1930s, the group began to practice it themselves. While practicing, the crowd began to make slight alterations to the lyrics of the song to include specific references to the fight for collective bargaining at this university. The lyric, “If the boss is in the way, we’re gonna roll it over him,” was changed to replace “boss” with mentions of university President Darryll Pines, “the deans” and “UMD.”

The (UMD) Diamondback; read more here. Thanks to Erin Murphy for sharing this story. photo by Sam Gauntt/The Diamondback 

Feb. Bread & Roses features Bill Fletcher & The Black Worker Center Chorus

This month’s LHF Bread and Roses series features Bill Fletcher Jr. and The Black Worker Center Chorus in a celebration of Black Labor History Month. Fletcher will read from his novel “The Man Who Changed Colors” and the Chorus will sing songs of freedom and liberation. Tickets for the February 13 event at the Takoma Busboys and Poets are free, but you must RSVP here.

'Cradle Will Rock' seeks local talent

Producers of 'Cradle Will Rock' are seeking local talent for the show, which will run Sep. 20-Oct. 20 in DC and Baltimore. The Cradle Will Rock is a 1937 play in music by Marc Blitzstein. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project, it was directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman. Set in Steeltown, U.S.A., the Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed includes a panoply of social figures. It follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize the town's workers and combat the powerful industrialist Mr. Mister, who controls the town's factory, press, church, and social organization. The local show is being directed by Shanara Gabrielle, who directed ‘Working’ in DC a few years back. CLICK HERE for details on the audition notice.

Striking Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers seek just desserts

Here’s a novel way to support a strike: contribute your favorite dessert recipes to "Seasoned with Solidarity," a dessert cookbook with all proceeds benefitting the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette workers' strike fund. “This is a creative way to show that community members near and far support these news union members who are drawing the line against corporate greed and sticking together for a fair contract, on strike now for 1+ year in Pittsburgh,” say supporters. The project draws on a history of union and unemployed worker cookbooks, like this example from Pittsburgh forty years ago, several by UAW and ILGWU Locals, and a more recent example by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. CLICK HERE to send in your recipe by this Sunday, Feb. 4.

photo: Strike cake “paying tribute to vampiric ownership” by Alden Global Capital, the second-largest newspaper publisher in the United States; yesterday, staff staged walkouts at the Chicago Tribune, Virginian-Pilot and other prize-winning papers to protest the cuts made by Alden, where Smith is CEO. Note, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is owned by Block Communications and the strike there is separate from yesterday’s walkout at Alden papers (though workers at all the publications are members of News-Guild CWA).


Vermont’s Old Labor Hall: we find out how Vermont's Old Labor Hall is surviving last year’s devastating flood; Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union shares his favorite labor song; and Si Kahn tells The Story Behind The Song: Back When Times Were Hard.

Plus: Carmelita Torres and the Bath Riots, and Troubadour, a tribute to Pete Seeger, both by the RJ Phillips Band The Labor Heritage Power Hour radio show airs at 1p ET Thursdays on WPFW 89.3FM or listen to the podcast anytime.

PICKET SIGN of the Week

Workers @TidewaterGuild were on strike yesterday to protest Alden Global Capital’s refusal to pay them what they’re worth.

Got a great picket sign? Email us at

Labor VIDEO of the Week

Carmelita and the 1917 El Paso bath riots

On Jan. 28, 1917, 17-year-old Carmelita Torres, who crossed the border daily from Juarez to clean houses in El Paso, refused to take a toxic disinfectant bath. By noon, she was joined by several thousand demonstrators at the border bridge. The protest became known as the “Bath Riots.” The Zinn Education Project; read more here. And listen to “Carmelita” here, by the R.J. Phillips Band.

Labor SONG of the Week

The Communists Have the Music - They Might Be Giants

LHF's comprehensive listing of labor's cultural events: music, films, theater, books, history and more...

Click here to add your labor arts event!

HISTORY: “Race and Disaster in the American Auto Industry: The Explosion at Briggs Manufacturing in Detroit (April 23, 1927)"

Wed, February 7, 12:15pm – 1:30pm

Featuring Tom Klug, Labor and Urban Historian

Green Room, MSU Library, and available as an online webinar the password is odwodl

BOOK/MUSIC: Bill Fletcher Jr. & The Black Worker Center Chorus

Tue, February 13, 7:00pm – 8:30pm

Busboys and Poets, 235 Carroll St NW, Washington, DC 20012, USA (map)

FREE but you must RSVP

Great Labor Arts Exchange (at Labor Notes)

Apr 18 – 21, 2024

Once again the Great Labor Arts Exchange will be part of the Labor Notes Conference (photo) this year. Labor arts workshops and performances will be woven throughout the weekend in Chicago. Labor Notes Conferences are the biggest gatherings of grassroots union activists, union reformers, and all-around troublemakers out there! Register by March 1 for a big discount. Here's the link to book in the LN block at the DoubleTree. Don’t miss a weekend of inspiration, education, and agitation!


February 2, 1987

The 170-day lockout (although management called it a strike) of 22,000 steelworkers by USX Corp. ends with a pay cut but greater job security. It was the longest work stoppage in the history of the U.S. steel industry. 

Listen to the Labor History Today podcast here. The lost Matchgirl Strike leader; Last October, Union Dues podcast host Simon Sapper took LHT’s Chris Garlock on a labor history walk in London; our November 5 episode covers our visit to the site of the factory where the 1888 Matchgirls Strike took place. Simon took us to several other nearby sites that illustrated the way workers lived -- and struggled – in those days; most of the actual places are now long gone, but one of them, the grave of striker Eliza Martin, still exists, though as you’ll hear, it's not easy to find. 

Why was legal secretary Iris Rivera fired on Feb. 2, 1977?
She made a major mistake transcribing a legal brief
She was caught making personal calls at work
She refused to make coffee

LAST WEEK'S QUIZ: On January 29, 1834, responding to unrest among Irish laborers building the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Pres. Andrew Jackson ordered the first use of American troops to suppress a labor dispute. If you chose one of the other answers, he did them too, just not in 1834: on May 28, 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, sanctioning the forcible relocation of Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes to land allotments west of the Mississippi river; in 1832 Jackson submitted a bill to Congress authorizing the use of federal troops in South Carolina if necessary to collect tariff duties.

"The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too."

Please CLICK HERE NOW to pledge your financial support to our 2024 program, which includes our annual Solidarity Forever Award, the Great Labor Arts Exchange, the DC Labor FilmFest and much more (check out our website for details!).

Donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. 


Flood fails to sweep away Socialist Labor Party Hall (1/26)

“Dazzling” night at LHF’s MLK Ball (1/19)

“Solidarity and song will get us through” (1/11) North Pole Elves Win Big with Escalating Strike (12/22)

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