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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
Songs and Yells of Steel Workers

In the following interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , Ida and William Rinas share some of the union songs steel workers sang in Chicago. The Rinases immigrated to Chicago from Dortmund, Germany in 1922. What are some of the messages contained in the following song lyrics? Why did unionists use the tunes of conventional and traditional music?

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(Tune: "Over There")

C. I. O. -- C. I. O.
Here we go, we will grow, that we know,
For our ranks are stronger,
We're weak no longer
We'll win our fight against the foe,
C. I. O. -- C. I. O.
In the mills, in the shops, mines below,
We know what's wise now, we'll organize now
Into one big union
The C. I. O.

(Tune: "Polly Wolly Doodle")

To win our strike and our demands
Come and picket on the picket line,
In one strong union we'll join hands
Come and picket on the picket line.
On the line, On the line
Come and picket on the picket line,
We will shout and yell and fight like hell
Come and picket on the picket line.

(Tune: "Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet")

Put on your old gray bonnet
With your Union button on it,
And we don't care what the bosses say,
We'll be in clover when the strike is over,
And we get a Union pay.

(To the tune of: "Jingle Bells")

C. I. O., C. I. O.
Hear the union cry,
Everyone begins to see,
We mean to do or die.
C. I. O., C. I. O.
Sing it good and loud,
Union everyone of us
We're free and brave and proud.

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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.