"Which Side Are You On?" by Florence Reece, 1930s
In 1931, coal miners in Harlan County were on strike. Armed company
deputies roamed the countryside, terrorizing the mining communities,
looking for union leaders to beat, jail, or kill. But coal miners, brought
up lean and hard in the Kentucky mountain country, knew how to fight
back, and heads were bashed and bullets fired on both sides in Bloody
Mrs. Reece wrote from personal experience. Her husband, Sam, was one of the union leaders, and Sheriff J. H. Blair and his men came to her house in search of him when she was alone with her seven children. They ransacked the whole house and then kept watch outside, ready to shoot Sam down if he returned.
One day during this tense period Mrs. Reece tore a sheet from a wall calendar and wrote the words to "Which Side Are You On?" The simple form of the song made it easy to adapt for use in other strikes, and many different versions have circulated.
Oh workers can you stand it?
Don't scab for the bosses,
Song originally issued on the Almanac Singers' album Talking Union (Keynote K 302A , July 1941, Pete Seeger lead vocal).