Union Songs

The MUA Muse: Songs and poems from the pickets

by Mark Gregory
Paper for IASPM The International Association for the Study of Popular Music (1998) based on an article published in overland magazine (overland.151.1998) in their special MUA - HERE TO STAY supplement.

If you'd not sent the wharfies out,
Without their rightful job,
We might not have united in the way we did today,
To celebrate our victories, this merry month of May,
So call the next election and we working folk will say,
Goodbye Howard and your thieving liberal mob.

John Warner's song "Tribute to John Howard" arrived in my email, shortly after he wrote it on the Sydney May Day march. Within a few minutes it had joined a dozen other "MUA Songs" on my "Union Songs" web site.

Union songs are a special interest of mine, one I date back to a Paul Robeson rendition of Joe Hill I learnt as a 10 year old! More recently, I began to build my "Union Songs" web site at the start of 1997, after some months of rehearsal with Bill Berry for a Blue Mountains Folk Festival union songs workshop. We concentrated on Australian union songs as much as we could, an extensive seam dating back a century or so. Lawson and Paterson were there of course along with Tex Morton, Dorothy Hewett, Helen Palmer and Merv Lilly, so too were the more contemporary works by folk revival songwriters like Don Henderson, Harry Robertson and many more.

In our workshop for the 1998 festival we also "showed off" a brand new song that Maurie Mulheron had written, a song about the wharfies called "Right That Time". By then my "Union Songs" web site had links to unions across the world and I was getting regular email from unionists in many countries including North America, Sweden, Britain, Thailand and Malaysia.

I had been aiming to expand and internationalise my collection of songs, hoping to learn something from traditions outside the Australian, British, Irish and North American traditions I had studied for years. I also hoped to get songs as they were being written. After Patrick sacked their workforce in a quasi military operation on April 7 that second wish came true. From that time it seemed each week brought a new harvest of songs about the Maritime Union of Australia fight for reinstatement.

Right That Time
A song by Maurie Mulheron ©1998

They speak about it proudly, it's now union folklore
How wharfies wouldn't load any pig-iron for war
Japan was a threat so they walked off the job
They wouldn't help the fascists for old Pig-iron Bob

They were right that time and they're right again now
But the strength of one isn't much of a power
So united they stand against all odds
Fighting for us all against the little tin gods

Indonesia's young and fighting to be free
But the Dutch had different plans for their former colony
When the people rose up with freedom on their lips
The wharfies stopped loading any Dutch bound ships

Korea was in trouble, overrun by the Yanks
Wharfies told to load rifles, guns and tanks
Why get involved in this bloody civil war?
We're not gonna ship any weapons any more!

Pig-iron Bob's back, says we're off to Vietnam
Tugging his forelocks for good old Uncle Sam
The seamen wouldn't work on the war ship 'Boonaroo'
And the wharfies held the line when they sacked the ship's crew

The struggle's moved on, mass sackings overnight
The union's survival is the heart of the fight
We'll defy your threats, your thugs and court
We're standing united, no wharfie can be bought!

History's on our side, we'll see this battle through
There's too much at stake for the profits of the few
Our fathers, before us, stood on every picket line
Keep their mem'ries alive and we'll win every time.

Last Chorus:
They've been right ev'ry time and they're right again now
But the strength of one isn't much of a power
So united they stand against all odds
Fighting for us all against the little tin gods

Maurie Mulheron, author of the play "One Word We" describing the life of Pete Seeger, wrote this song after hearing one of Peter Reith's diatribes against waterside workers in February; "After a bout of road rage" as he describes the muse that compelled him to write. He has since sung it many times on the various Patrick pickets, and he sang it at the Sydney May Day rally. The wharfies love the song and of course it has particular interest for a whole new generation who began to turn up to the extraordinary "community pickets".

A number of my own favourite union songs come from the Kentucky mines in the 1930's. Songs from Sara Ogan Gunning, Aunt Molly Jackson, Jim Garland and Florence Reece. I changed a few words of "Which Side Are You On?" and came up with the following song.

Join the MUA
New words by Mark Gregory

Come all of you good wharfies
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how that good old MUA
Has come in here to dwell

Join the MUA
Come and join the MUA
Join the MUA
Come and join the MUA

My daddy was a wharfie
And I'm a wharfie's son
I'm sticking to the MUA
Till every battle's won

On wharves around Australia
There are no neutrals left
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for the NFF

Oh, workers can you stand it?
Oh, tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

When Patrick sacked the wharfies
They thought it was a joke
But world wide solidarity
Is causing them to choke

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies
Us working folks haven't got a chance
Unless we organize

John Dengate, one of Australia's most revered songwriters, and a parodist without peer phoned Chris Kempster with a new song he'd written to the tune of "Abide With Me". Legend has it that the hymn was sung by the band as they went down with the Titanic, and it seems that Minister Reith may be caught in a similar kind of undertow as a result of his inability to unhitch himself from Patrick, so when Chris sent me the words I was only too happy to include it in my growing collection. Almost immediately I heard the song sung to great effect at the special Peter Reith picket in Wentworth Falls when 500 Blue Mountains residents came along to face the drizzle and an even grimmer Reith (the Grim Reither as one banner had it!).

I Can't Abide
A song by John Dengate ©1998

I can't abide the government's front bench, send them away to the Germans or the French
I can't abide Costello's shallow sneer - won't someone make the bastard disappear?

I can't abide that bloody awful Kemp, bring back the gallows, the hangman and the hemp
Take Peter Reith and dump him in the tide. Him I particularly can't abide

Poor little John deserves our sympathy, born neath the star of mediocrity
Pat his wee head and send him off to bed, then hide the key lest he abide with me

I can't abide the government's ministry, Senator Vanstone's worse than dysentery
Send her away without the least delay - dont pour the tea lest she abide with me

Sink them the swine, an iceberg would be fine. Far, far away in distant Hudson Bay
As they go down they'll warble while they drown, flat and off-key, they'll be despised by me

I can't abide the government's front bench, send them away to the Germans or the French
Take Peter Reith and dump him in the tide. Him I particularly can't abide

Scabs have long been the target and subject of union songs. Jack London penned the most famous description of scabs:

"When God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which he made a scab...
... the modern strikebreaker sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children, and his fellow men for an unfilled promise from his employer, trust, or corporation"

Industrial Workers of the World organiser, songwriter and martyr Joe Hill wrote about scabs in songs such as Casey Jones. The pitmen from the mines of Newcastle in England had a particularly fierce song about them called "The Blackleg Miner". One verse ominously advises

So join the union while you may
Dont wait till your dying day
For that may not be far away
You dirty blackleg miner

Geoff Francis and Peter Hicks, recent emigrants from the mainland to far away Tasmania, emailed me their new song on the subject

The Slimy Patrick's Scab
Words by Geoff Francis & Peter Hicks. ©1998
Tune: works well with "The Sydney Market Boys" or try your own!

There's vampire bats and sewer rats, there's pubic lice and crabs,
But the lowest form of life on Earth is the slimy Patrick's scab.
There's vampire bats and sewer rats, there's pubic lice and crabs,
But the lowest form of life on Earth is the slimy Patrick's scab.

An hour before the sun comes up, he crawls out of his pit,
You wouldn't get too close to him for the smell of slime and ... other little bits,
Beneath the cloak of darkness he sets off, all clad in black,
To serve his wretched masters goes the slimy Patrick's scab.

And when his treachery is done, on his knees he crawls back home,
His kids don't want to know him, so he eats his tea alone,
They haven't been to school for days, they're ashamed that he's their dad,
"Tell me, what's your father do?". "He's a slimy Patrick's scab."

There's vampire bats...

He's not dared step inside a pub or an RSL for days,
'Cos when you're a slimy Patrick's scab the world don't seem too safe.
He sits at home and counts his hoard to find out what he's worth,
But what value would you put upon the lowest slime on Earth?

Alas, accidents do happen, in the wharves and on the shore -
A crash, a smash, a flash, a splash - and our scab's a scab no more,
Nobody mourns his passing, no-one's even slightly sad,
Upon his grave these words inscribed - "Here lies a Patrick's scab."

There's vampire bats...

So he walks up to the pearly gates where the heavenly bell he rings,
Says he, "I've worked hard all my life, you'll surely let me in.
"I've always done the boss's will, to have served him makes me proud,
"So please give me my halo now, and my little fluffy cloud."

Saint Peter slowly shakes his head and looks him in the face,
"What makes you think that I've got room for scabs inside this place?
"You've robbed your neighbour of his job and his children of their food,
"You've stabbed your brothers in the back and betrayed your sisters too.
"My angels would lay down their harps, do you think that I'm that mad?"
And to burn in hell forever he despatched the Patrick's scab.

There's vampire bats...

The authors added "We are pleased to donate this song to assist the MUA in their struggle. Please use it widely and pass it on. This song borrows proudly from folk history, and in particular from "Casey Jones, Union Scab." At the Sydney May Day rally, gathered on the historic "Hungry Mile", Peter Hicks was there to sing this song.

In the Australian tradition no songs loom larger than Waltzing Matilda and The Wild Colonial Boy. The swagman was very likely to have been a member of the young Shearers Union and while Donahue may not have been a member, the song about him inspires unionists to this day with its defiant lines like "I'll fight but never surrender said the Wild Colonial Boy". So it was no surprise to find parodies of those songs dealing with the wharfies' struggle as we approach the end of another century. The next two songs I found on a wharfies support web site in Melbourne, a site called "Songs and chants for the MUA & Community Assembly Picket Lines" at: http://www.users.bigpond.com/Takver/soapbox/muasongs.htm

The Fighting MUA
Tune: the Wild Colonial Boy

There was a foolish stevedore
And Patricks was his name
It was owned by a scab named Corrigan
To our great nation's shame
He was a liar and a cheat
A puppet some may say
But never could he bluff or beat The fighting MUA

It was in the night that Patricks came
Like burglars at their trade
With guard dogs, scabs and Canberra spies
Coming to their aid
While Peter Reith and his little mate
Fanned the flames all day
In London, Cooktown and Dubai
They'd smash the MUA

So come away my Comrades
On the wattle we'll have no stains
We'll scorn to live in slavery
Bound down by iron chains
We'll link our arms and stand and fight
Forever we shall try
We'll fight beside our fighting mates
The fighting MUA

The judge in England said he could not
Countenance this lot
A nasty scheme was all worked out
A filthy dirty plot
And comrades from around the world
Will now come to our aid
To fight and organise
Beside the fighting MUA.

Banjo Paterson knew a great deal about and was sympathetic to the struggles of workers in the Australia he was writing in. He may have been a lawyer but his attitude to scabs is as hostile as that of any militant unionist as he proved in his poem "The Bushman's Song" better known as "Travelling Down The Castlereagh"

I asked a cove for shearing once along the Marthaguy:
"We shear non-union here" says he. "I call it scab," says I

There is a theory that Paterson's Waltzing Matilda is an allegory that deals with the great shearers strike of the 1891 period. Whatever the case unionists and radicals in Australia have always claimed the song as their own and strengthened the words a little to more suit their needs as in "you'll never take me alive says he". So here almost exactly 100 years after the song's birth we find it being put to service for a new struggle.

Waltzing Matilda, 1998
New words by Rick Finney March 20 1998

Once a happy tradesman
Worked by the waterside
Under the shadow of a loading gantry
And he sang as he worked
And laboured by the waterside
You'll come a waltzing matilda with me

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he worked
And laboured by the waterside
You'll come a waltzing matilda with me

Up came a Squatter
Resplendent in hypocrisy
Supported by the troopers
Three by three
Where's your union ticket
What's that in your tucker bag
You'll not work this waterside
We're going to break your solidarity

Up jumped the Wharfie
And called to his brotherhood
Never a "SCAB"
You'll ever see me
And he sang
As he stood
A picket of solidarity
Never a Scab will you make me

Funded by the taxpayers
The Squatters formed a company
Supported by corruption and more political hypocrisy
And they whined as they formed
"It's for all our society"
Although few taxes paid
At all do we

Along came the judges
Members of the exclusive legal fraternity
You've not "closed shop" rights like us
Cried they
We're the guardians of the corrupt establishment
It's been our trust for a century
We'll allow no honest equality
Staying as decadent pedophilic and kinky as we please

Banned were the exports
Handled by Squatter's hypocrisy
Grain, wool and cattle
And they sang as they stood
Firm in international solidarity
"We are sisters and brothers in Union. Never to be broken are we"

Another view of the judiciary comes from one of the most prolific of the

songwriters to have taken up the pen in the MUA cause, John Warner. His song "Justice Delayed" won immediate acclaim. Written prior to the Federal Court and High Court decisions, it's a powerful vehicle for the basic demand of the wharfies: reinstatement.

Justice Delayed
A song by John Warner 25/4/98 ©1998
Tune: Mixture of Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre and Bonnie Dundee/Billy of Tea

Justice delayed is justice denied,
Four judges have ruled that the right's on our side,
Now give us our jobs back and fling the gates wide,
For justice delayed is justice denied.

We've maintained the peace as we stood for our right,
They brought in the dogs and armed thugs for the fight.
They went to the courts and the courts ruled our way,
Why are we still standing outside today?

It's comic to hear business men crying poor,
They can't pay fair wages yet they pay for the law,
The law goes against them, as rightly it ought,
And still they have money to try the next court.

They say they can't pay us, the company's broke,
And we'd all be laughing except it's no joke.
They're still paying scabs on the big hired bus,
But they've stripped all the assets, there's no cash for us.

We're sick of injunctions, we're sick of the wait,
While scabs wreck equipment we see through the gate.
Our trust in the law's wearing weary and thin,
It's time to do justice and let us back in.

If scabs and employers are enemies so are their political allies and co-conspirators the Liberal Government. The wharfies forced the founder of the Liberal Party of Australia to wear the tag "Pig Iron Bob" for most of his political life and the present generation of Liberals seem destined to carry on Bob Menzies' feud against the waterside workers with a suicidal recklessness. The wharfies appear to be endowed with abilities both to send the Liberals into a rage and frustrate all the best laid plans of this sworn enemy. Maybe that's the nub of the wharfies' place in Australian history, the special place they occupy in union culture. Certainly their union is far older than the Liberal party and may well outlive it. I found this song on the Melbourne web support site I mentioned above.

Liberals Are Bastards
Tune: We Shall Not Be Moved

Howard is a liar - he should be removed!
Howard is a liar - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Fischer is a dropkick - he should be removed!
Fischer is a dropkick - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Costello is a mad dog - he should be removed!
Costello is a mad dog - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Downer is a blockhead - he should be removed!
Downer is a blockhead - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Reith is a bastard - he should be removed!
Reith is a bastard - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Vanstone is a ratbag - she should be removed!
Vanstone is a ratbag - she should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
She should be removed!

Herron is a racist - he should be removed!
Herron is a racist - he should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
He should be removed!

Liberals are bastards - they should be removed!
Liberals are bastards - they should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,
They should be removed!
Just like a scum across the Ya-ar-ra,

The Yarra is the river that runs through Melbourne.

What a service that little tune has done over the years! and in different countries. I was singing "We're gonna ban the H-Bomb , we shall not be moved" in England in the late 1950's. See also Wendy Lowenstein's suggestions regarding this song

Patrick has docks around Australia including Brisbane where these 3 poems seem to originate if the email address is anything to go by. I discovered the poems at the "Support Australia's Wharfies" web message board in Melbourne at: http://www.insidetheweb.com/messageboard/mbs.cgi/mb63212

Poems by John Tomlinson ©1998

What sort of Practice?

World best practice so they say.
Wharfies working without pay.

While wharfies picket one more day
Patricks seeks another stay.

World best practice so they say
taking all the jobs away.

World best practice it is new
coming to a job near you.

World best practice made for you
coming soon to your job too.

Picket Line

Oh we're relaxed and comfortable
Yes we're doing fine
we are relaxed and comfortable
out on the picket line.
I know you said you'd govern
you'd govern for all of us
we'd be relaxed and comfortable
and there'd be no fuss.
Well we are relaxed and comfortable
and so say all of us:
yes, we're relaxed and comfortable
we're feeling mighty fine
we are relaxed and comfortable
out on the picket line.
The rain might fall the wind might blow,
hard times come and hard times go,
there might be hail there might be snow,
but we're relaxed and comfortable
out on the picket line.
Cause in our hearts we're smiling
and we know we'll see sunshine.
Yes we will see sunshine
at the ending this struggle
when we lay our banners down
we'll be relaxed and comfortable
there'll be no need to frown.
Because we stand together
and together we will win.
We won't scab or lie or cheat
so in the end you face defeat.
Together we will win.
We don't need guard dogs
nor come in the dead of night
we struggle for each other
and we try to do what's right.
Oh we don't need to lie and cheat
we don't need to steal.
We try to tell it like it is
we try to make it real,
and in our trust of others
we have forged a force of steel.
You might look in wonderment
you might smile and sneer
but the picket line is stronger now
the end is coming near.
We don't lie to judges
we won't lie to you
we don't lie to each other
we will build a world anew.
We are relaxed and comfortable
I say we're doing fine
we are relaxed and comfortable
out here on the picket line.
Standing shoulder to shoulder
supporting one another:
brothers, sisters, children, wives,
fathers, daughter, mother.
Yes, we are relaxed and comfortable
out here we're doing fine
yes, we are relaxed and comfortable
out on the picket line.
Oh you can stick best practice,
and you stick your hate.
We're never voting for yer
once we're back inside the gate.

The artisan is partisan

Reith's seldom right
he's not too bright.
In fact he's f---ing stupid,
fallen in love with Corrigan
John Howard's playing cupid.
Blood on the street.
Blood on the stair.
Blood in your eyes
and blood in your hair -
industrial resolution.
World best practice in asset stripping.
Bottom of the harbour skinny dipping.
I know indeed
just what we need-
a worker's revolution.

John Tomlinson's poems give this union struggle, in many ways a very old struggle, a modern beat or rap. They remind me of Rock Against Racism perfomances by John Cooper Clark or maybe the "Making History" recording of Linton Kwesi Johnson.

"World's Best Practice" is a favourite mantra of those who accuse the wharfies of indolence on the job, while "relaxed and comfortable" is what John Howard said he hoped Australians would feel if he was elected. "Bottom of the Harbour" was a corporate strategy of companies to illegally divest themselves of responsibilities and tax burdens by setting up special shells that were artificially sent bankrupt while the parent companies lived on in style. These schemes were revealed in the 1980 by the Costigan Commission, and the judge in that investigation, Frank Costigan, recently likened the tactics of the owners of Patrick to those "Bottom of the Harbour" schemes. John Howard was treasurer at the time of the original schemes yet seems to have forgotten the stench they left on him and his fellow Liberals.

John Coombs the wharfies leader proposed a new definition of World's Best Practice at the May Day rally, one that includes social responsibility such as decent health, safety and education systems, security of employment and ending child labour. He also points to another kind of Globalisation, one of workers internationalism against the onslaught of multinational corporations.

As I write these words the union has won back the right to the jobs on the wharves in the High Court. They day before this historic decision saw the biggest May Day celebration for many years, where many of these songs were sung along with the traditional repertory of union songs. Every capital city in Australia has a Trade Union or Solidarity Choir along with assorted folk singers to sing this kind of material, and we have seen a great outpouring of new and refurbished songs to meet the needs of another campaign in union history.

John Warner in Sydney seems to been smitten the hardest by the MUA Muse and emailed me two more songs as I was putting this material together. Describing the first song he writes:

"A night of incredible weather in which the defeat of Patrick Stevedores and the Howard Government seemed to become more and more inevitable. Images stay with me of brilliant colours against darkness: orange and yellow safety suits and the little red glows of cigarettes, identifying working men without faces in a dark, temporary shelter; the immense cranes and veils of rain drifting through the spotlights. Like these symbols, solidarity and a family-like friendship blaze through the oppression."

Penrhyn Road Picket
by John Warner ©1998
(5.5.98 revised 9.5.98)

The bitter wind hurls veils of rain
Through the spotlight over the scarlet crane,
A police car spins out a wall of spray
By the picket tents at Botany Bay,
Canvas roofs and plastic walls
Crackle and heave in the icy squalls,
Red and yellow rain suits shine
On that determined picket line.

MUA (echo)
Here to stay (echo)
At Webb Dock, Swanson Dock,
And windy Botany Bay,
And watch out you fools and liars who say we've had our day,
Here to stay!

We've faced the cold of the faceless thugs
With their batons, mace and savage dogs,
We've faced the boss's heart of ice
With his squalls of hate and his hail of lies.
For the Union's brought us tents and poles,
The miners brought us a hill of coal,
Carpenter's set up roof and wall,
And friends came in and they fed us all.

We're tugboat men on a twelve-hour shift,
Measuring current, set and drift,
We're operators on the scarlet cranes
Container loading on trucks and trains.
They've cut our numbers relentlessly
Now one man slaves at the work of three,
The work of three, it would make you laugh,
When they want to pay us the wage of half,
And danger hangs on our burnt-out brains,
As containers swing from the windblown cranes,
As the vessel shifts with the wind and tide,
A moment's lapse and a man has died.

We've faced the worst of the weather's blast,
We've the guts, the strength, and the friends to last.
We've comrades cooking us snags and tea,
We've anger, discipline and unity.
We know today and we know with pride,
Our solidarity's world wide,
And those who think to bar the door,
We've beaten better foes before.

How Much More
A song by John Warner ©1998
Tune: Bless Them All

How much more?
How much more
Evasions, injunctions and law?
The courts have decided and that should be it
So send home your scabs and security shit.
Containers are stacked by the shore
The wharfies stand here by the door,
To hell with your games and your blacklist of names
It's time to get working once more.

How much more?
How much more?
Will you call on us to endure?
You've found out that you had the devil to pay
When you took on the lads of the bold MUA
You're corrupt and depraved to the core
And your antics too vile to ignore
So get down off your dais
Employ us and pay us
Then piss off and plague us no more!

The poet from Brisbane teamed up with a friend and emailed me another poem:

The Worlds Best Judge
John Tomlinson & Penny Harrington

There's a mighty judge from Queensland
he stands so straight and tall.
He's judging for the Liberals.
He'll judge us one and all.
He's judging for the farmers.
He'll judge for Peter Reith.
His judgements mightn't make much sense,
but for fascists they are sweet.
He is the finest judge we've had
since judging was begun.
It's a pity that the judgement went:
Six - one, six - one.

He sold out the workers.
He's a bastard through and through.
By selling out the workers
he's betraying me and you.
He's been scabbing on the workers
since his vengeful life begun.
It's a pity that the judgement went:
Six - one, six - one.

When he's with his fellow judges
he's not having that much fun,
and I heard the High Court judgement
went six - one , six - one.
He is on his lonesome,
he's got no friends down there;
but he'll get an understanding
of hatred and despair.

He's lost all of his humanity,
and forgotten his morality.
He's been fine tuning his venality
demonstrating his hostility
by selling out the workers.
He's been siding with the shirkers.
He's been having so much fun
but, the judgement went six - one.

Once the Liberals give the orders
he has a right to choose
just as long as he makes sure
it's the workers, who lose.
He's been having so much fun.
He thinks he's got us on the run.
It's a pity that the judgement went:
Six - one, six - one.
It's a pity that the judgement went:
Six - one.

I also tracked down another couple of songs from Melbourne, a verse of one of which I'd heard in the background of an ABC radio report! These songs written by Tim O'Brien from a group called "The Corrigans from Dubai" are titled "We Belong to the Union (You can't break me)" and "With These Arms".

You Can't Break Me
A song by Tim O'Brien ©1998

You can bruise my pride
Bust my face
Scatter my rights
All over the place
You can take the bread
From of my plate
But you can't break me!

Lock us out
Chain the gates
Put black shirts in
With dogs and mace
We'll hold the line
Won't step away
'Cause you can't break me!

I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union

Don't count me out
When I'm on the floor
We'll win again
We've won before
The streets will ring
With a mighty roar
'Cause you can't break me!

Stocks rise up
On workers' backs
Profits soar
While you hand out the sack
And boardroom bullies
Bloated and fat
But you can't break me!

Seen Australia sold
To mates offshore
Backroom deals
And shonky law
The day has come
Say "No more!"
'Cause you can't break me!

I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union
I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union

We won't turn away
If you dare us to fight
I swear
I'll never lay down and die

I'm in the union mate
Got a right to belong
We'll be back
Millions strong
Women and men
United as one
'Cause you can't break me!

I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union
I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union
I belong
You belong
We belong to the Union

With These Arms
A song by Tim O'Brien ©1998

(Justice is a frail and precious right easily betrayed by those entrusted to its care)

The deal was done behind a coward's door
they came in darkness, shadows on the shore
the snarl of dogs sent shivvers through the night
as union men were thrown outside the wire

They locked the gates hanging them in chains
they gloated seeing working men in pain
We watched and saw a veil of darkness fall
with working men and women we heard the call

And with these arms we held the line
with these arms our strength combined
and with these arms made our demand
and with these arms we made a stand
And with these arms
- arms that held a baby held the line

They'd break the union with one deadly blow
If you're MUA - they said - you'd have to go
fifteen hundred men cast aside
their crime - being union - had them fired

Hundreds grew to thousands through those nights
faces glowed defiant for workers' rights
Police moved in, building workers moved behind
and mothers, sisters, brothers held the line

And with these arms we held the line
with these arms our strength combined
with these arms we turned them back
and with these arms took up the tracks
And with these arms
- arms more used to papers held the line

These two songs are on a fund raising MUA CD available from the ACTU which also includes a dance called "We Belong to the Union (Corrigan Quick-step Dance Mix)", the choreography of the dance taking the following form:

"For this track couples break up into four couples with a drongo or - for this dance - a corrigan in the middle. As the couples dance about, the corrigan attempts to strip assets off the dancers (in a bereft and morally corrupt manner) until no-one has any assets left."

I'd found songs and poems from the East coast capitals and began to wonder if there were examples from the West. I emailed folk and union contacts but found nothing, then I stumbled on a Fremantle web site, at http://www.users.bigpond.com/picket/ At this site, The Fremantle Community Picket (Tom Edwards Stand), I found the three poems penned by Geoff Teague a waterside worker, and one by Peter Capp.

The Fremantle Struggle
A poem by Peter Capp ©1998

Rudderham Drive in 98 saw a staunch united band
Gathered at the Workers Embassy, renamed "Tom Edwards Stand"
Determined to see justice done, despite Government Union bashing
Plus a corporate Corrigan capitalist into human value smashing
But the forces of right stood totally united, as days rolled into weeks
The mood went down the valleys then rose up to the peaks
Richard Court sent T.R.G and policemen by the hundred
And overhead with spotlights burning , two helicopters thundered
But unions and community stood shoulder-to-shoulder , all determined to stay
They refused to bow to intimidation, as night changed into day
Paddy Crumlin would speak to the crowd, supported well by Tony Cooke
Real speaking from real people - Not Government Gobblygook
The polls were telling Howard's Government what every person knew
That decent honest people didn't share their slanted view
So this embassy will remain and people will fight as one
Till this Government and Corrigan crumble -

Tom Edwards was killed in 1919 on the Fremantle waterfront fighting for his right to be a unionist.

The State of the Union
A poem by Geoff Teague ©1998

It was a great day in '86, when I joined the waterfront
Not of a union background, but I thought I'd take a punt
I joined the Maritime Union, without my arm bent back
Their record did impress me, I followed the union track
About "closed shop " hypocrisy, let's just take a little look
No entry to the WACA, unless a member with a book
Or try and be a Liberal, when you haven't joined their club
The Chamber of Commerce is just as bad, but I'm welcome at the pub
Unions aren't just for workers, the lawyers are in one too
Accountants, farmers and doctors, are but some to name a few
And what about the pollies, their union is quite strong
Now here we'll find a closed shop, without a union song
The corrupt and greedy bosses, unfortunately still survive
We see the ugly side of them, when they finally take a dive
The only moral parties left, in this raped and pillaged land
Are the unions of Australia, taking the only responsible stand
Reform is required in Parliament, it's urgency is overdue
Productivity in this establishment, out of ten would rate a two
If ministers and bosses were honest and workers were not torn apart
The union movement of the world, may never had to start
A worker without a union, has no voice to have a say
Forget about safety and conditions, or go home with no pay
But it all comes down to just one thing, our choice must always prevail
Whether you join a union or not, our rights must never fail
The uneducated people of society, and there is a lot out there
Believe the unions are the thugs, and the pollies really care
For those of you who are still asleep, time to get some fact
Unions are fighting tooth and nail, to keep your rights intact.

Wake up Australia
A poem by Geoff Teague ©1998

We work all our lives and don't ask much, but still they screw us for more,
Yes we of the workforce who scrape all our lives, are headed for the life of the poor.
Where are we going? Who's in control? Has quality of life had it's day?
Yes capitalism, like cancer has spread, as the politicians collect their pay

Wake up Australians as the world goes past
Our brains have been washed right through
We stay at home and watch it all on TV
We don't fight back, just brew

With the rorts a happening in Canberra and while the nation sleeps at night,
Our pollies have boosted their paypackets, yet our economy is suppose to be tight.
The writing seems to be on the wall, as the pollies get fat and rich
They've taken away the jobs we had and just left us to argue and bitch
And what of our kids? They don't have a say. Where does their future lie?
In the kitchen of a hamburger stand or eating the humble pie
It won't be long -they'll force us out, to places far from our homes,
Our cities are filling with the overseas rich and we are the garden gnomes
In April we remember our fallen and brave - for our freedom and peace they fought
They faced some terrible enemies, but not like Howard or Court.
This enemy has different intent, these Fascists want to change our life
Offering nothing for our children, unemployment in Australia is rife.
The greedy capitalists are here for good as the world gets smaller each day,
Our labour force reduces it's hold, work longer for no extra pay.
The casual worker waits "on call" - his job just fills a hole
A permanent job is what he wants - but it just beats getting the dole
Our politicians have failed us bad, but why do they fuss so loud
When at election time they all combine, that they'll lead this country so proud.
The constitution they have rorted, so let's stop and give it a look
If this is government of quality, then things are bloody crook.

Workplace Agreements
A poem by Geoff Teague ©1998

Take individual workplace agreements, and look at the bottom line
It is nine to one against you, join the dole queue or sign
Cheap labour is the name of the game and we Aussies have the ball in our court
We'll cop five dollars an hour or to overseas labour they'll resort
As for the dole it is a form of bribe, the government have contrived a way
Get rid of the higher paid jobs and feed them a little pay
Let's make them work for their dole, to supply the labour cheap
There'll be no gold at the end of their rainbow, but our businesses will be able to reap
Unions have kept the community together, though the ignorant will grumble and sneer
But the discipline in the community, has started to disappear
More families broken and crime growing, the third world border is closing
And yet our government couldn't care less, our child's future is decomposing
Why does this government bash the unions? To get answers there has been failure
It is the unions that stand between real jobs and the casualisation of Australia
One real issue is what we all should know and this could make you laugh
These rogues that fester in parliament, want our conditions cut less than half
Collective agreements are the way to go, in industry they have proved their place
Though they are not one hundred percent yet, bosses and workers have given them grace
For goodness sake wake to the call, our industries rely on the drones
While the bosses think running a business, is plenty of lunches and mobile phones
Industry must answer to workplace reform, but nobody has pointed the finger
While quality of the standards waive, the bosses bludge and linger
Yes indeed we are the clever country - we have given most of it away
Time for all workers to be counted, collective bargaining will win the day.

The tradition of union songs is as old as unions themselves now approaching their third century. It borrows from the popular traditions of the broadside ballad and the folk song and the hymn. There is the sense of the expression of views and mores of a vibrant community, a culture. The means of collection and dissemination quite naturally include the latest technologies, the Internet and the World Wide Web. In my experience this introduces a new speed both in the collection of material from disparate sources and in getting the material out to an international audience.

Such songs are a hardy breed and resurface from their underground streams or untapped seams when most urgently required. Typeset on a page they may not look much but a song exists for the singing and the printed version is never much of a guide to its qualities.

I leave the last word to John Warner with a song inspired by the May Day march in Sydney while he was on his way to perform for a wharfies fund raising concert

Tribute to John Howard
A song by John Warner ©1998 (May Day March 3/5/98)

Dear Johnnie Howard, we thought we ought to say,
How much we appreciate the things you've done today.
You've really done us well, old lad,
You've treated us alright,
You only had to flap your gob to make us all unite.
Ten thousand folks were on the street,
You should have heard the cheers,
More union solidarity than there has been for years,
Take on another union, lad before it disappears,
Johnny Howard, the working man's delight.

Dear Johnnie Howard, receive our vote of thanks,
Likewise Mr. Corrigan, his businesses and banks,
If you'd not schemed and plotted,
To bully, cheat and rob,
If you'd not sent the wharfies out,
Without their rightful job,
We might not have united in the way we did today,
To celebrate our victories, this merry month of May,
So call the next election and we working folk will say,
Goodbye Howard and your thieving liberal mob.

Visit "Union Songs" on the Web at: http://unionsong.com/ and .... send me some more union songs! Preferably by email (then I dont need to retype them)

By Way of Glossary

Maritime Union of Australia
An amalgamation of wharfies from the old WWF (Waterside Workers Federation) and seamen from the old SUA (Seamen's Union of Australia)

Second largest of Australia's stevedoring duopoly

National Farmers Federation representing agribusiness

Former merchant banker now CEO of Patrick

John Howard
Australian Prime Minister

Peter Reith
Minister for "union-busting"

Western Australian Cricket Association (sports ground)

Richard Court: Premier of Western Australia

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