Socially Engaged Art

Precarious Creative Workers of the World Little Red Songbook

Book Launch and Singalong with live band and karaoke
May 1st, 2016, 2:30pm
The Company House, Halifax
$5.00 includes a copy of the songbook


The Precarious Creative Workers of the World Little Red Songbook is a re-working of the infamous Industrial Workers of the World Little Red Songbook, a small publication with over 36 editions published over the past 100 years that mobilized union support and solidarity between workers in the 20th century. Throughout the original songbook’s creation, workers borrowed melodies from folk tunes and hymns, the popular songs of the day, re-writing the lyrics to stand up for their rights as labourers against capitalist exploitation. The songbooks were cheaply produced and distributed, and were used by workers to sing together at meetings, strikes and rallies. The songbook’s tag line, “to fan the flames of discontent”, shows that the songs were intended to refigure, in the hearts and imaginations of the workers, their rights and their power in collective action. The PCWWLRSB is an attempt to update the songbook to reflect contemporary labour conditions in the west.

Currently, a large group of precarious creative workers in the area are re-writing these songs to reflect contemporary labour conditions. Together, we are staying true to the original text’s intention, “to fan the flames of discontent”, and process, borrowing familiar melodies and re-writing the words. In some cases, just as the original authors borrowed from contemporary pop music, so too, we are lifting melodies from contemporary pop music, leveraging our common references in mass-media. The project builds on and learns from the long history of labour organizing in North America. It implements the (successful) methodology used by the workers of the industrial era, but also publicly poses some questions for our current state of affairs. For example, what does collective action look like when we cannot unionize? Who do we fight against when we are our own bosses? It serves as a platform for a plurality of voices to speak to contemporary conditions of precarity and insecurity, particularly amidst creative workers. (Immaterial, post-fordist, precarious, digital peasantry, post-academics, etc.)

Once the songs are (re)written, they will be compiled in a book designed after the 1923 edition of the IWW songbook. We will be launching the PCWWLRSB at a singalong event on Mayday, May 1st, at the Company House (2pm) in Halifax. In ACT 1, a live band of old-timey musicians will accompany everyone singing new versions of the old songs. In Act 2, groups of people from the audience will perform karaoke renditions of pop songs (like this one:  The event and project is sponsored by the Mayworks Festival and is a part of the Mayday celebrations. We are also receiving support of in-kind printing and promotion from the Radical Imagination project.