JOE HILL, THE WOBBLIES AND “IN THE SWEET BY AND BY”

JOE HILL, THE WOBBLIES AND “IN THE SWEET BY AND BY”

The Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW,  also known as the "Wobblies" were a militant labor organization during a time when industry used goons, a willing police force or private guards to violently stop labor organizations. Beatings, shootings and arrests of union workers was common place. The IWW had some 100,000 members at its peak in 1923. They advocated a socialistic or communist ideology and had a reputation for sabotage and violence against industry to achieve labor demands. In Joe hill Washington State  the IWW focused on the lumber industry. The timber companies responded by driving them out of town with force. Where the Wobblies went, trouble usually followed.

On November 5, 1916 the Seattle IWW organized a trip by boat to Everett for labor organization purposes. When they arrived some 200 people who had been "deputized" were waiting at the docks. There was gun fire. Five union members and two deputies were killed. Many people on the boat fell overboard when it tipped. This day became known as the "Everett Massacre."

In November 1919 American Legion members in the logging town of Centralia decided to destroy the local IWW office. After a gunfight, the office was taken over and union members arrested. That evening one of the Wobblies was taken from jail and lynched. Nothing was done about it.

During the Red Scare of the 1920's federal and local authorities raided IWW offices and destroyed records and files. Members were arrested and prosecuted.

Joe Hill lived during this time of power struggles between the Wobblies and industry. He was a union Joe hill.2 activist. He worked the docks in San Pedro and was a member of the Portland IWW local. Hill was a Swedish born labor activist and a member of the Industrial Workers of the World. He also traveled around the U.S. organizing workers in the IWW, writing songs and writing poems.  In 1914 Hill was charged with murder and attempted robbery. After a controversial trial, he was convicted and was executed.

The other day at Noon Mass I was attending, a visiting Maryknoll priest gave a short homily. He spoke about Joe Hill and his famous song "The Preacher and the Slave" which Hill wrote mocking what he thought was the message of religion – that workers should suffer their fate because they would be rewarded in the hereafter.The song was written by Joel Hill in 1911. He wrote it as a parody of the hymn In the Sweet By and By which was sung by the Salvation Army. The priest pointed out that religion should be directly concerned in improving the lot of the poor, the homeless and those in poverty. He acknowledged that too often the Catholic Church historically has aligned itself with the rich and powerful instead of standing up for the worker and those in need. I was reminded of that passage in Scripture from James: "If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" The homily was a call to social responsibility by those of us who claim we are Christians. So, here are the lyrics to Hill's song sung to the music of In the Sweet By and By:

The Preacher and the Slave

Long-haired preachers come out every night,

Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right;

But when asked how 'bout something to eat

They will answer in voices so sweet
Chorus

You will eat, bye and bye,

In that glorious land above the sky;

Work and pray, live on hay,

You'll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play,

And they sing and they clap and they pray,

Till they get all your coin on the drum,

Then they tell you when you're on the bum
(Chorus)
Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out

And they holler, they jump and they shout

Give your money to Jesus, they say,

He will cure all diseases today
(Chorus)
If you fight hard for children and wife-

Try to get something good in this life-

You're a sinner and bad man, they tell,

When you die you will sure go to hell.
(Chorus)
Workingmen of all countries, unite

Side by side we for freedom will fight

When the world and its wealth we have gained

To the grafters we'll sing this refrain
Chorus (modified)

You will eat, bye and bye,

When you've learned how to cook and how to fry;

Chop some wood, 'twill do you good

Then you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye

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