Thoughts About Woodie Gutherie, Union Maid & the WPA

Thoughts About Woodie Gutherie, Union Maid & the WPA

My childhood home town newspaper, The Anacortes American, does a feature of republishing excerpts from old news. This week one of the items was from October 20, 1932, three years before I was born. It read:

"Submitting several communications from men, who desired to pay their water bills, but were unable to for lack of funds, William B. Short, water superintendent, took up the matter of using wood at the city hall with the city council Tuesday evening. Mr. Short suggested that there were several logs and standing dead trees around Lake Cambell that might be cut for firewood, thus clearing up old trails and lessening the fire hazard and incidentally aiding these men to pay their water bills  through service. The use of wood instead of coal at the city hall would save money, and at the same  time help the situation."

I read this after listening in the car, on the way home from work, CD’s of songs Gutherie by Woody Gutherie. One CD had songs about the dust bowl migrants, the poor and the struggling people of the depression era. One CD was nothing but union songs. Songs in support of the worker trying to earn a living during tough economic times. One of his better known is Union Maid which has these lyrics:

UNION MAID
(Woody Guthrie)

There once was a union maid
Who never was afraid
Of goons and ginks and company finks
And deputy sheriffs who made the raids
She went to the union hall
When a meeting it was called,
And when the Legion boys came ’round
She always stood her ground.
chorus: 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 till the day I die.

In 1935 FDR created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to employ the unemployed so they could eat and support their familes because times were so hard. There were many projects these men were responsible for around the county I grew up in. Parks, picnic areas, rock work and guard rails along highways. Many exist today as a monument to hard times.

All of this made me aware of how poor and hungry people were during the depression yeas and how much we owe to the working people who stood up to the industry tycoons through the unions. They endured ridicule, beatings, imprisonment and even death for the right of workers to a living wage and fair working conditions. While the CIO under Harry Bridges was accused of being "red" and the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) were accused of being violent, I fully understand when desperate people do what is necessary to feed their families and survive against the rich and powerful. I feel a great debt to the brave workers who brought some balance to our system during those hard years of the twenty’s and thirty’s.

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