Union Songs

This is What the Union Done

A song by Uncle George Jones©1933 Uncle George Jones

In nineteen hundred and thirty-three
When Mr. Roosevelt took his seat
He said to President John L. Lewis
"In union we must be
Come, let us work together
Ask God to lead the plan
By this time another year
We'll have the union back again."

Hooray! Hooray!
For the union we must stand
It's the only organization
Protects the laboring man
Boys, it makes the women happy
Our children clap their hands
To see the beefsteak and the good pork chops
Steaming in those frying pans

When the President and John L. Lewis
Had signed their decree
They called for Mitch and Raney
Dalrymple make it three
" Go down in Alabama
Organize every laboring man
Spread the news all over the land
We got the union back again!"

There's one law President Roosevelt passed
That made the operators mad
Gave all the men the right to organize
Join the union of their choice
When the President had passed this law
We all did shout for joy
When he said no operator, sheriff, or boss
Shouldn't bother the union boys

In nineteen hundred and thirty-two
We was sometimes sad and blue
Traveling round from place to place
Trying to find some work to do
If we're successful to find a job
The wages was so small
We could scarcely live in the summertime
Almost starved in the fall.

Before we got our union back
It's very sad to say
Old blue shirts and overalls
Were the topic of the day
They was so full of patches
And so badly torn
Our wives had to sew for about a hour
Before they could be worn

Now when our union men walks out
Got the good clothes on their backs
Crepe de chine and the fine silk shirts
And brand new Miller block hats
Fine silk socks and the Florsheim shoes
They're glittering against the sun
Got dollars in their pockets, smoking good cigars
Boys, this what the union done

Before we got our union back
Our wives was always mad
When they went out to church
A print dress was all they had
But since we got our union back
They're happier all the while
Silk and satin of every kind
To meet with every style


This song was published in George Korson's "Coal Dust on the Fiddle"

The sudden revival of the United Mine Workers of America in 1933 was a remarkable story. In late 1932 the UMWA was practically defunct, yet by the fall of 1933 it was in the strongest position in its history. Perhaps the best historical narrative of the revival of UMWA was penned in lyrical form by an African-American former coal miner called "Uncle George" Jones. Jones had started working as a miner in 1889 at age seventeen but in 1914 blindness forced him out of the Alabama mines. Long known for his singing in church choirs, down in the mines, and on the picket line. Jones' "This Is What the Union Done" not only expressed the miners' sense of the role that Roosevelt and Lewis played in the union revival; it also beautifully captures a sense of the transformation when miners "got the union back again!"

Rounder Records have released Songs and Ballads of the Bituminous Miners in their series The Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture

Return to top of page