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Song for the Knights of Labor€ comes from our not-yet-finished musical/opera, €œIron & Gold. € More info under the flerdee-lee ...


    In 1885, the universal labor union Knights of Labor forced robber baron Jay Gould to sign a collective bargaining agreement with employees of his southwest railroad system, one of the pillars of Gould'€™s fortune. The KoL'€™s victory sent membership numbers soaring - from 104,000 in 1885 to over 700,000 in 1886 - but the new members lacked the older members'€™ discipline and commitment to the Knights, and Gould saw an opportunity to strike back at the Knights. He adhered to the agreement with the running trades of conductor, fireman, and engineer, but ignored it with the lower-paid shop members (mechanics and machinists). In March of 1886, the Knights reluctantly struck, but support by the running men was lukewarm at best, and the strike failed. The Southwest Strike was a harbinger of things to come, and it would be decades before organized labor recovered from the reverses of the late 1880s and early 1890s.
    Iron & Gold€ centers on Gould and Martin Irons, the man who opposed him in the Great Southwest Strike. Irons sings €œSong for the Knights of Labor€ in act 2, as the Knights prepare to go on strike.
    Act 1 of Iron & Gold€ is complete; you can hear the music online for free here. It's also available at Spotify and probably other online radio stations, and if you actually want to buy it, at various online retailers including iTunes and Amazon, though CDBaby gives us the biggest royalty. (Note to real historians: We've taken some dramatic liberties with the few known facts of Irons'€™ life - for instance, telescoping two wives into one.)
    I write, score and produce the music; my wife, Lauren, writes the lyrics. We collaborate on the stage play. In addition to the music, Act 1 contains about 15 minutes of dialogue that's not on the website.

5:30 PM PT: Update: Very honored to be on Community Spotlight tonight - thank you!

Originally posted to PianoGuy on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions, Rebel Songwriters, Protest Music, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Grave of Martin Irons (3+ / 0-)

    by Mother Jones
    May 11, 1907
    The Appeal to Reason

      ...It was nineteen long years since I had last seen this loyal fellow worker in the great cause; since I had clasped his honest hand; since I had heard his earnest voice pleading for the slaves who work for wages and produce to enrich their masters and deny themselves.
       ...The grave [near Bruceville, Texas] was marked with a piece of iron. This rough souvenir suggest the name of the labor warrior who there fell into his last long sleep. No tender hand had planted any flowers upon the grave of Martin Irons, but a mocking bird was singing sweetly near his resting place and the flowers were scattering their springtime perfume to the breezes as if to rebuke man's cruel forgetfulness by the sweet and gentle breath and melody of Mother Nature.
       ...It is fortunate that Martin Irons did not awaken when he fell asleep. The world had nothing but cruelty, scorn and suffering for him. He had been too true. Had he prated of the identity of interests between master and slave, his name would have been honored and he would have fared like a prince of the blood. He had the ability but refused to prostitute it.
       Jay Gould would have paid him liberally, but Martin Irons refused to see him. All of Gould's millions were so much worthless chaff to him in the presence of his duty to labor.
       ...if the angels of love have not abandoned their mission they hover near where Martin Irons sleeps and in God's good time his name will be revived, the contumely will be effaced and his memory will shine resplendent in the galaxy of agitators, pioneers and warrior who died to make man free.
    Mother Jones would be pleased that her old fellow warrior for labor's cause was so honored.
    tip rec repub

    WE NEVER FORGET Our Labor Martyrs: a project to honor the men, women and children who lost their lives in Freedom's Cause. For Dec: Life so cheap; property so sacred.

    by JayRaye on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 07:09:16 PM PST

    •  Eugene Debs' tribute to Irons (3+ / 0-)

      I'm too lazy to abridge it:

      Martin Irons, Martyr

      December 9, 1900

          It was in 1886 that Martin Irons, as chairman of the executive board of the knight of Labor of the Gould southwest railway system, defied capitalist tyranny, and from that hour he was doomed. All the powers of capitalism combined to crush him, and when at last he succumbed to overwhelming odds, he was hounded from place to place until he was ragged and foot-sore and the pangs of hunger gnawed at his vitals.
          For 14 long years he fought single-handed the battle against persecution. He tramped far, and among strangers, under an assumed name, sought to earn enough to get bread. But he was tracked like a beast and driven from shelter. For this “poor wanderer of a stormy day” there was no pity. He had stood between his class and their oppressors - he was brave, and would not flinch; he was honest, and he would not sell; this was his crime, and he must die.
          Martin Irons came to this country from Scotland a child. He was friendless, penniless, alone. At an early age he became a machinist. For years he worked at his trade. He had a clear head and a warm heart. He saw and felt the injustice suffered by his class. Three reductions in wages in rapid succession fired his blood. He resolved to resist. He appealed to his fellow-workers. When the great strike came, Martin Irons was its central figure. The men felt they could trust him. They were not mistaken.
          When at the darkest hour Jay Gould sent word to Martin Irons that he wished to see him, the answer came, “I am in Kansas City.” Gould did not have gold enough to buy Irons. This was the greatest crime of labor’s honest leader. The press united in fiercest denunciation. Every lie that malignity could conceive was circulated. In the popular mind Martin Irons was the blackest-hearted villain that ever went unhung. Pinkerton blood-hounds tracked him night and day.
          But through it all this loyal, fearless, high-minded workingman stood steadfast.
          The courts and soldiers responded to the command of their masters, the railroads; the strike was crushed and the workingmen were beaten.
          Martin Irons had served, suffered for and honored his class. But he had lost. His class now turned against him and joined in the execration of the enemy. This pained him more than all else. But he bore even this without a murmur, and if ever a despairing sigh was wrung from him it was when he was alone.
          And thus it has been all along the highway of the centuries, from Jesus Christ to Martin Irons.
          Let is not be said that Irons was not crucified. For 14 years he was nailed to the cross, and no martyr to humanity ever bore his crucifixion with finer fortitude.
          He endured the taunts and jeers and all the bitter mockery of fate with patient heroism; and even when the poor dumb brutes whose wounds and bruises he would have swathed with his own heart-strings turned upon and rent him, pity sealed his lips and silent suffering wrought for him a martyr’s crown.
          Martin Irons was hated by all who were too base or ignorant to understand him. He died despised, yet shall he live beloved.
          No president of the United States gave or tendered him a public office in testimony of his service to the working class. The kind of service he rendered was too honest to be respectable, too aggressive and uncompromising to be popular.
          The blow he struck for his class will preserve his memory. In the great struggle for emancipation he nobly did his share, and the history of labor cannot be written without his name.
          He was an agitator, and as such shared the common fate of all. Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, Elijah Lovejoy, John Brown, Albert Parsons and many others set the same example and paid the same penalty.
          For the reason that he was a despised agitator and shunned of men too mean and sordid to comprehend the lofty motive that inspired him, he will be remembered with tenderness and love long after the last of his detractors shall have mouldered in a forgotten grave.
          It was in April, 1899, in Waco, Texas, that I last pressed this comrade’s hand. He bore the traces of poverty and broken health, but his spirit was as intrepid as when he struck the shield of Hoxie 13 years before; and when he spoke of Socialism he seemed transfigured, and all the smouldering fires within his soul blazed from his sunken eyes once more.
          I was pained, but not surprised, when I read that he had “died penniless in an obscure Texas town.” It is his glory and society’s shame that he died that way.
          His weary body has at last found rest, and the grandchildren of the men and women he struggled, suffered and died for will weave chaplets where he sleeps.
          His epitaph might read: “For standing bravely in defense of the working class, he was put to death by slow torture.”
          Martin Irons was an honest, courageous, manly man. The world numbers one less since he has left it.
          Brave comrade, love, and farewell.

      From Debs: His Life, Writings and Speeches
      Charles H. Kerr & Company Co-Operative 1908

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