As I move things to my storage building, there is pleasure in looking over some stuff I’ve saved before tossing. I savored an old calendar from 1980 with working people’s songs, the kind of stuff Woodie Guthrie might sing, though way before his time. The first one in the calendar is familiar to just about every American: I’ve Been Working On The Railroad .
Less familiar is Factory Girl.
The words are simple and direct to the point:
No more shall I work in the fac ‘try, greasy up my clothes,
No more shall I work in the fac’try, with splinters in my toes
Chorus: Pity me my darling, Pity me I say
Pity me my darling, and carry me away.
No more shall I wear the old black dress, greasy all a round,
No more shall I wear the old black bonnet, with holes all in the crown.
No more shall I see the super come, all dressed up so proud,
For I know I’ll marry a country boy before the year is out.
The only way out of gritty, poverty for a woman, was marriage. For a man it was worse.
Another song of the times is The Coal Baron’s Song.
Oh, yes, let them strike as much as they like, to us ’tis a perfect boon,
Oh, merrily high the prices fly, on monopoly’s big balloon.
Tho’ they starve by bits in the inky pits, tho’ their children cry for bread,
The end of the game must be the same, King Capital keeps ahead.
Good pay? How absurd, upon my word, what more can the men require?
You speak of the poor, what they endure, deprived of their bit of fire,
What of control the price of coal, yet reduced at this time of year,
Our dividends, my worthy friends, would rapidly disappear.
I’m willing to add, their work is bad, and dangerous too, to face.,
But when one stops and reels and drops, there’s another to take his place,
And supply and demand, throughout the land, it is by that we will stand or fall,
We’re dealing in coals, but bodies and souls, are not in our line at all.
I’d never heard of this song before. It is poorly if plaintively written and is an old folk ballad original to America.
While I was about this subject, I found a non-profit website for such ballads and folk music indigenous to our country at Smithsonian Folkways. You might want to check it out. It has some interesting stuff. Especially the blues and lament of black freedmen and slaves who had an even greater cross to bear than poor whites.