He does it again.
Tom Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and guitarist, singer and songwriter in his solo Nightwatchman, has always used his burning talent as a vigilant guard for social justice. On May 17, he declared war on the Koch brothers with his latest eight-song extended play album, “Union Town” — a soaring tribute to the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Madison, Wisconsin and all across America who are taking a stand to defend their rights to collective bargaining and a fair shake. Not only is the album full new and traditional union songs, but he also puts his money where his mouth is; all proceeds go to pro-union struggles around the country.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler expresses her delight with Morello, “Do you remember the last time a leading recording artist put out a labor EP? And do you remember one ever donating the proceeds entirely to the cause of workers’ struggles at a critical moment—or anytime?”
Was that a Koch I just heard explode?
Morello comes by his fighting songs honestly as a member of the Musicians’ Union Local 47 in Los Angeles, while his mother is not only a public school teacher but an active member of the teachers’ union. Tom explains that music and political activism go hand in hand, because music is a way for people from diverse backgrounds and groups to come together over an issue, and that his solo act as Nightwatchman can go anywhere where injustice is happening at the drop of a hat. He told Mike Hall who interviewed him for AFL-CIO, “It’s like the guerilla warfare of music. If unions are in danger anywhere in this great land, the Nightwatchman will be there, standing up for working people.”
Watch “Union Town” here:
He says he was inspired by “100,000 people marching in the street on a freezing cold Saturday afternoon.” Morello explained to Hall the origin of Union Town:
I was inspired by the solidarity of students, steelworkers and firefighters of all ages, colors and creeds who occupied the Capitol building. I was inspired by the fact that there was something in the air that made nurses, teachers, farmers and musicians that it was time to get off the sidelines and make history.
When Morello got home, he wrote the song, “Union Town,” and then decided to record an album of “unapologetically pro-labor, pro-working class, pro-union songs and donate 100 percent of the proceeds to the union struggles across the nation.”
The album includes three Morello originals: the title track plus “A Wall Against the Wind” and the live version of “Union Song” he sang to the 100,000 people in Madison’s Capitol Square on Feb. 21. In addition, Morello offers new takes on “Solidarity Forever,” “Which Side Are You on?” “16 Tons,” “This Land is Your Land” and “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.”
Listen closely to his rendition of “This Land is Your Land” where he bypasses the beginning and gets right to the class warfare. Yes, that part is usually left out of the song, but not anymore. My personal favorite is “Which Side Are You On” – a hauntingly confrontational ballad best played at full volume while marching on the Capitol of a Republican governor whose strings are being pulled by the Koch brothers.
For the powerful battle cry offered up in Union Town we can thank the Republicans, whose hubris gave birth to a renewed labor movement across our country.
Yes, Scott. We won’t forget.