Ken's Labor Book Reviews
"War Zone, Union Jax." CD or cassette by Eddie Starr. Produced by District 34 of the United Steelworkers of America. $10. War Zone Musical Relief Fund, c/o Gene Reay, USWA, 3751 Pennridge Dr., Bridgeton, Mo. 63044. All proceeds to Decatur, Ill., to benefit the locked-out workers at A.E. Staley and the permanently replaced strikers at Bridgestone/Firestone.
"War Zone" by Eddie Starr, a steelworker and musician, features "War on the Workers" by another new labor songster, Anne Feeney. This lead song tells the story of the locked-out, beat-up, pepper-gassed workers at A.E. Staley's Decatur plant in the "war zone" of the U.S. labor movement.
Starr's hard-driving interpretation of this song is angry, loud, protest rock that still manages to build on the heritage of giants like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Joe Hill. Starr's forceful rendition of "War on the Workers" on guitar, piano and sax, with backup vocals and rhythm section, drives the story of the Staley workers' struggle around frequent repetitions of a haunting, hypnotic chorus until it is embedded in our skulls:
There's a war on the workers.
At the song's climax, the chorus fades and surrounds recorded radio news headlines reporting on a massive protest march by Staley workers. As a way to start calling the shots, the employees have called for a boycott of Pepsi products, which use a large proportion of Staley's output of corn sweetener. Most of the other songs in this album were written by Starr. Many sound like a repoliticized electric Bob Dylan in style, wit and sarcasm. "The Return of Coxey's Army" threatens militant action if the unemployed are not allowed to work at decent jobs:
When they busted all the unions,
Coxey's Army was a famous march on Washington in 1894 demanding a public works program for the unemployed. A third generation steelworker, Eddie Starr is a poet who hears music even in the sound of his work crew at the steel mills. This, for him, is heavy metal. He is one of a number of contemporary labor musicians like Anne Feeney, Tom Juravich, Joe Uehlein, Dr. Loco and his Rocking Jalapeņa Band and Sweet Honey in the Rock, highlighted in a Wall Street Journal article of Sept. 19, "Unions Sing, But Not the Same Old Song."
For years labor music, like much of the movement, drew strength from the battles of an earlier age. These new songs and new versions of old standbys like "Solidarity" are beginning to bring labor music up to date to support a new upsurge in the movement.
Many of these new voices are available in the new catalog of the Labor Heritage Foundation, 815 16th St. N.W., Suite 301, Washington, D.C. 20006.
--Ken Nash, Ed Fund Library, Rm. 206
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