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November 19th, 2006

Remembering Joe Hill

Joe Hill

I first heard of Joe Hill listening to Utah Phillips’ music. November 19th marks the anniversary of his execution. Joe Hill was an I.W.W. Activist and fought for worker’s rights. Back in his day workers were literally risking their lives fighting for rights we take for granted today. For the 8 hour day, minimum wage, 40 hour work week and worker’s compensation thanks go to people like Joe Hill and the countless other men and women who fought for worker’s rights.

From AFL-CIO’s site:
“A songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer, Joe Hill became famous around the world after a Utah court convicted him of murder. Even before the international campaign to have his conviction reversed, however, Joe Hill was well known in hobo jungles, on picket lines and at workers’ rallies as the author of popular labor songs and as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) agitator. Thanks in large part to his songs and to his stirring, well—publicized call to his fellow workers on the eve of his execution—”Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”—Hill became, and he has remained, the best—known IWW martyr and labor folk hero.”

From Wikipedia:
“Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, and also known as Joseph Hillström (October 7, 1879 – November 19, 1915) was a radical songwriter, labor activist and member of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies. He was executed for murder after a controversial trial. After his death, he became the subject of a folksong.


Hill rose in the I. W. W. organization and travelled widely organizing workers under the I. W. W. banner, writing political songs and satirical poems, and making speeches. He coined the phrase “pie in the sky”, which appeared in his song “The Preacher and the Slave” (a parody of the then well-known hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”). Other notable songs written by Hill include “The Tramp”, “There Is Power in a Union”, “Rebel Girl”, and “Casey Jones–Union Scab”.”

Note: While the Wikipedia article claims Hill’s activist role didn’t affect his murder trial, this is disputed. Many believe Hill was framed because of his role in the labor movement.

From Youth for International Socialism’s site:

“In 1914 he was accused of the murder of a Salt Lake City store owner, John A. Morrison, and convicted on circumstantial evidence. There ensued an international battle to prevent his execution by the State of Utah. Hill’s supporters claimed that the business interests of the West, especially the “Copper Bosses” of Utah, had conspired to eliminate him. While there was no direct evidence that this was true, the climate of opinion in the West and in Utah was decidedly hostile to the IWW and to Joe Hill. It is clear that, under today’s laws, Hill would not have been executed on the evidence presented at his trial. President Woodrow Wilson intervened twice in an attempt to prevent the execution, but Hill was executed at the Utah State Prison in Sugar House, Utah, on 19 November 1915.”

Posted by Vixen as Musings, Activism at 11:26 PM CST