Si Kahn and Songs About Labor

Si inspires union members in Newfoundland


A rare example of a folk and bluegrass songwriter who’s actually worked as a union organizer, Si is one of the most prolific writers of songs for and about working people. Many of songs Si has written come directly out of the work he’s done with the labor movement.

Below is a list of songs over his decades long musical career that deal with Labor rights and workers. And below this – is a little more info about Si and his time as a Labor organizer with additional info on his progressive works.

Songs of LABOR & STRUGGLE from Si Kahn’s decades of recordings:
Aragon Mill, New Wood, 2:09
Brookside Strike, New Wood, 2:26
Lawrence Jones, New Wood, 1:54
Truck Driving Woman, New Wood, 2:10
Working Away, I’ll Be There, 2:53
Jobs With Justice, I’ll Be There, 2:29
They All Sang Bread and Roses, I Have Seen Freedom, 2:38
Molly in the Mill, In My Heart: A Retrospective, 2:44
Detroit December:  In My Heart: A Retrospective, 2:57
Long Way To Harlan, Been A Long Time, 2:38 (duet with Laurie Lewis)
Brown Lung Blues, Been A Long Time, 2:45
Just A Lie, Been A Long Time, 2:26
A Time For Us All, We’re Still Here, 3:32 (union wedding song)
Hard Times, We’re Still Here, 2:31 (includes the word ‘bastards’)
The Gap ($8,825 An Hour), We’re Still Here, 3:10
We Roll the Steel, We’re Still Here 2:48
Wigan Pier, We’re Still Here, 3:04
Go To Work On Monday, Thanksgiving, 3:58
In the Spinning Mill, Thanksgiving, 2:32
Washington Square, Courage, 4:46
Sailing To Alaska, Bristol Bay, 2:53
Five Days A Week, Aragon Mill: The Bluegrass Sessions, 2:40
Gulf of Mexico, It’s A Dog’s Life, 3:04
Rats in a Maze, It’s A Dog’s Life, 4:04
“A Time For Us All”  We’re Still Here! 
Government on Horseback, It’s A Dog’s Life. 2:26) (video at

Si’s union organizing career started with the United Mine Workers of Ameria (UMWA) during the Brookside Strike in “Bloody Harlan” County, Kentucky in 1973-1974.  That strike is dramatically portrayed in Barbara Kopple’s film Academy award winning “Harlan County U.S.A.” and led to Si’s writing songs “Brookside Strike” and “Lawrence Jones,” the latter given a powerful rendition by the great Kathy Mattea on her 2008 album Coal.
From there Si went to the Textile Workers Union of America (TWUA) to work on the J.P. Stevens Campaign, portrayed in the film “Norma Rae” starring Sally Field.  Contrary to rumor, Si is not the Jewish organizer played in the film by Ron Leibman; he got to Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, home to seven J.P. Stevens mills, right after the film ends.  That experience led to dozens of songs about the mills, from Si’s signature song “Aragon Mill” to Threads, an entire album of mill songs recorded with the Kruger Brothers while they were still living in Switzerland.
Last year the Newfoundland & Labrador Council of Labor brought Si to their conference to talk about fighting back against privatization and how to write chants collectively, so you don’t need to shout “The people united/Will never be defeated” for hours on end.  Please keep scrolling for a photo of Si leading a hundred Canadian union members in “Solidarity Forever” during a demonstration at the Provincial government headquarters in St. John’s.
Si was named the official Poet Laureate of the North Carolina AFL-CIO by unanimous vote of the Convention in 1985.  This year, at its 40th anniversary conference, the Labor Heritage Foundation honored Si with their Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award.
Si also writes musicals, several of which are about legendary labor agitators, including Mother Jones in Heaven, now touring nationally featuring third generation actor Vivian Nesbitt (Breaking Bad, Longmire, Night Shift) and her guitarist/vocalist spouse John Dillon.  There are many appropriate Labor Day songs on their cast album Songs of Mother Jones in Heaven, produced by double Grammy winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer.  Be sure to check out “You Are the ‘U’ in Union” (2:31), “Stitch and Sew” (3:26), “Houses on the Hill” (3:25) and “Silk and Satin” (3:20).
Also check out “The Old Labor Hall” (4:10), “Who Will Speak for Me?” (4:25), “Shuttle and Loom” (3:33), “Union Miner” (2:26) and “Third Shift” (2:45) on Joe Jencks’ CD The Forgotten: Recovered Treasures from the Pen of Si Kahn.

Kari Estrin
Kari Estrin Mgt/Consulting

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