"Talking Union" was written in 1941, while the Almanac Singers were working to organize Congress of Industrial Organizations unions. 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. 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. Yet another Almanac Singer, Pete Seeger, wrote an upbeat ending to complete the song.
Lyrics and themes
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. The song is both informative and humorous. It was designed as a "magnetic" song, used to encourage people to join labor unions.Critics have described the lyrical themes of the song as broadly non-interventionist.
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". 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.
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