Undoubtedly the most popular book in American labor history, the I.W.W.’s Little Red Song Book has been a staple item on picket lines and at other workers’ gatherings for generations, and has gone through numerous editions.
As a result of I.W.W. efforts to keep up with the times, however, recent versions of the songbook have omitted most of the old-time favorites, especially the raucous lyrics of the free-spirited hoboes who made up such a large portion of the union’s membership in its heyday. For example, recent versions have left out all but a few of the celebrated songs of Joe Hill, T-Bone Slim, Ralph Chaplin, and other pioneer bards of the One Big Union—and many of the few remaining older songs have been abridged or otherwise modified.
The steadily mounting interest in Wobbly history and culture warrants this facsimile edition of a classic Little Red Song Book from the union’s Golden Age. Reprinted here is the Nineteenth Edition, originally issued in 1923, the year the I.W.W. reached its peak membership.
Of the fifty-two songs in this book, the overwhelming majority have not been included in the I.W.W.’s own songbooks for many years. Here are such classics as Joe Hill’s “John Golden and the Lawrence Strike,” “We Will Sing One Song,” “Scissor Bill,” “The Tramp,” and others; T-Bone Slim’s “I’m Too Old to Be a Scab,” “Mysteries of a Hobo’s Life,” “I Wanna Free Miss Liberty,” and others; Ralph Chaplin’s “All Hell Can’t Stop Us,” “Up from Your Knees,” “May Day Song,” and more; and other songs by C.G. Allen, Richard Brazier, Pat Brennan, James Connolly, Laura Payne Emerson, and many others.
Ninety years ago these songs were sung with gusto in Wobbly halls and hobo jungles from Brooklyn to San Pedro. And they’re still fun to sing today!