Talking Union

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"Talking Union" is a talking blues song written by members of the Almanac Singers. The song tells of the common struggles that a union organizer faces while starting a new labor union.


"Talking Union" was written in 1941, while the Almanac Singers were working to organize Congress of Industrial Organizations unions.[1] The song was written accidentally. Millard Lampell and Lee Hays were in the process of creating new verses for the song "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" by Woody Guthrie, another member of the Almanac Singers.[2] Many of the verses they wrote were nonsensical, but after an hour, Lampell and Hays saw that they had created the beginnings of a new song.[3] Yet another Almanac Singer, Pete Seeger, wrote an upbeat ending to complete the song.[4]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

If you want higher wages,
let me tell you what to do

The lyrics of "Talking Union" describe the process of starting a union, and common roadblocks and issues that an organizer faces with ways to get around them.[6] The song is both informative and humorous.[7] It was designed as a "magnetic" song, used to encourage people to join labor unions.[8]Critics have described the lyrical themes of the song as broadly non-interventionist.[9]

The lyrics start out with a list of the positive things that come with starting a union at one's workplace: increased pay, decreased hours on the job, and the ability to take time off work to "take your kids to the seashore".[7] The song then describes the steps that a person would need to go through to start a union. Workers need to get the word out that the shop is unionizing through distributing handbills and holding meetings. The lyrics then move to common issues that a person who starts a union will face. The song ends with the promise that "You will win" if you just stick with the union.



  1. ^ Singer 1997, p. 14
  2. ^ Winkler 2009, p. 30
  3. ^ Dunaway 1981, p. 82
  4. ^ Winkler 2009, pp. 30-31
  5. ^ Seeger 1955
  6. ^ Winkler 2009, p. 31
  7. ^ a b Dunaway 1981, p. 80
  8. ^ Denisoff 1968, p. 237
  9. ^ Denisoff 1970, p. 26


  • Denisoff, R. Serge (1968). "Protest Movements: Class Consciousness and the Propaganda Song". The Sociological Quarterly. 9 (2): 228–247. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.1968.tb01115.x. JSTOR 4105044. 
  • ——— (1970). "'Take It Easy, but Take It': The Almanac Singers". The Journal of American Folklore. 83 (327): 21–32. JSTOR 538779. 
  • Dunaway, David King (1981). How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger. New York: Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-49597-6. 
  • Eyerman, Ron; Jamison, Andrew (1998). Music and Social Movements: Mobilizing Traditions in the Twentieth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-62966-9. 
  • Seeger, Pete (1955). Talking Union and other Union Songs (liner notes). The Almanac Singers. Washington DC: Folkways Records. ASIN B000OV0WSU. 
  • Singer, Alan (1997). "Using Songs to Teach Labor History". OAH Magazine of History. 11 (2): 13–16. doi:10.1093/maghis/11.2.13. JSTOR 25163131. 
  • Winkler, Allan M. (2009). 'To Everything There is a Season' : Pete Seeger and the Power of Song: Pete Seeger and the Power of Song. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-971725-5.