imagesMalcolm Deans is one of the people who was helping organise David Rovics’ Dunedin show, originally scheduled for tonight; below is the piece he wrote about Rovics for Dunedin listing’s publication Point*; thanks Malcolm for passing it on to us

Professional flat-picking rabble rouser and Industrial Workers of the World (otherwise known as the Wobblies) member, David Rovics, is returning to Dunedin to play a show this Thursday 15th August at Queens Bar. Rovics played here back in 2010 and managed to get along to the Octagon to play some songs at the union rally against National’s introduction of 90-day trial periods with no rights. Since then we’ve seen the rise of explosive social movements in Northern Africa, Turkey, Brazil, and Southern Europe plus the Occupy movement in the US. Rovics made an extensive tour of occupations around the US in 2011 and is continually on the move, touring around the world. Originally from Connecticut but now resident in Portland, Oregon, Rovics starts his tour in Lyttelton on Wednesday before heading to Dunedin.

Rovics is part of a long tradition of Wobbly singers and songwriters that led the IWW to be known as ‘the singing union’. The IWW was no ordinary union, solely concerned with ‘bread-and-butter’ issues. Formed in Chicago in 1905 by an amazing group of radical labour organisers including Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, Eugene Debs, and Lucy Parsons, the IWW aimed to unite every worker into one big revolutionary industrial union with the aim of taking over industry and running it along democratic lines in the interests of all. The famous preamble to the constitution of the IWW begins,

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.”

Unlike the exclusive craft-based unions of the American Federation of Labor, the Wobblies organised the masses of industrial workers regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, skill level, and citizenship-status. Often they were faced with the task of uniting workforces like the 25,000-strong textile workforce in the great Lawrence strike of 1912 made up of 51 different nationalities. To deal with this diversity the IWW translated speeches and strike bulletins into all the different languages spoken but the one thing that really united the workers across their ethnic diversity was song.

The IWW built up a powerful repertoire of almost 200 radical, satirical and inspirational songs that they published in The Little Red Songbook. The Little Red Songbook was first published in 1909 and went through 35 editions. Inscribed on the cover of the Songbook is the line, “To fan the flames of discontent.” The IWW used songs to build class consciousness on the picket line, to deflate the authority of social superiors, the churches, and government bureaucrats, in free speech fights across the United States, and finally for fun – to make people laugh. The Wobblies’ legacy of song lives on in the mainstream labour movement in the labour anthem, ‘Solidarity Forever’, written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915. (Perhaps most of the people who now sing this song don’t realise its revolutionary content!)

‘Songs to fan the flames of discontent’ is an excellent way to describe the songs of David Rovics. As well as keeping alive the radical songs of the Wobblies and other social movements, Rovics is a prolific songwriter with a cutting satirical sensibility and great storytelling ability. He has written about a vast array of political issues, most recently the ongoing hunger strike of prisoners in the Californian prison system against the extensive, indefinite, arbitrary and political use of solitary confinement – ‘Song for Pelican Bay’. You can watch him sing this and many other songs on Youtube. He has also made almost his entire output available to download free at his website www.davidrovics.com. Making his music available free or close to free has allowed him to reach a far greater audience and connect with a far bigger network of like-minded people than if he had tried to restrict access by charging more. One of those connections is this Thursday at Queens.”

Point can be found at: http://point-dunedin.blogspot.co.nz/

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