On a windblown, gray Chicago day exactly 100 years ago today, Ralph Chaplin left his home on the city’s South Side for a raucous poor people’s rally at Hull House, the famed settlement house co-founded by Jane Addams. He asked a visiting friend he'd met organizing coal miners with Mother Jones to listen to the lyrics of a new tune he had been working on:
For the union makes us strong!”
The self-described Chicago “stiff” and “rebel editor” merely wanted to write a song that could be for workers what “John Brown's Body” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” were for abolitionists. In fact, he borrowed the very melody.
One hundred years later, despite the rise and precipitous fall of workers’ movements in the U.S., Chaplin's song is a classic still widely sung with fists raised and demands for justice submitted. It's an international and national anthem, regularly belted out by “Occupy” and sung every weekday by crowds from 20 to 100 protesters at the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda.More ...