Today, October 7, 1879, Joe Hill was born, a Swedish immigrant, songwriter and organiser with the Industrial Workers of the World. Born as Joel Hagglund in Gevalia, Sweden , I make no apologies in writing about him again here, this was a man who became a myth. A myth on which many people across the globe continue to pin their hopes and dreams. Moving across America in search of work, leading an itinerant life, he ended up in New York, and together with people from the same background, people yearning for a new way of life, inspired by its revolutionary spirit he was to become a Wobbly and became a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Throughout his day he was actively involved in many of the labor battles of the day, fighting in Mexico, with partisans against the dictator Ricardo Flores Magon and used his voice as a songwriter and cartoonist for the IWW, many of whose songs still sung today, including 'There is Power in the Union,' his memory still enduring and being kept alive. His songs and tunes urged workers to quit thinking of themselves as a dispirited crowd of immigrants, but through solidarity and organisation. People of all nationalities and differing languages would come together and sing Joe Hill's tunes together. Even if jailed for their protests, the workers would carry on singing his words until their release.
In 1914 Joe Hill was accused of the murder of a Salt Lake Grocer and former policeman. He was suspected because he had suffered a gunshot wound on the same night. At his trial though not one witness was able to identify him as one of the murderers but he was convicted and sentenced to death anyway, The IWW argued that he had been framed and recent evidence unearthed, seems to back up this view, that he had been engaged in conflict somewhere else, while engaged in a fight over his love. Following an usuccessful appeal and an international campaign calling for clemncy, Joe Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19th, 1915. Just prior to his execution, he had written to Bill Haywood the IWW leader, saying 'Goodbye Bill, I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. 'Organize!" This is still used as a motto by the IWW to this day (Don't mourn organise).His last actual words were 'Fire!.' Most of his ashes would be sent to IWW branches around the world, and many believe his spirit now lives on through the works and deeds of the IWW, this man and his myth still continuing to inspire, in movements that reflect his call for social justice.
An estimated 30,000 people attended Hill's funeral and he has since been immortalised in poetry and song,from Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson to many others. Today his name still used as a rallying cry, as we remember this insurgent rebel folk hero.
Without memory of the past , there can be no hope for the future.
Paul Robeson - Joe Hill