7. “Casey Jones—the Union Scab” (words: Joe Hill, music: Eddie Walter Newton / 1912)
Pete Seeger – banjo and vocals
The Song Swappers – vocals (Mary Travers, Zoe Collimore, Dave Sear, Nancy Kurz, Debbie Hand, and others)
From Talking Union (Folkways FH 5285), originally released 1955.
Workers used the songs in the Little Red Songbook as organizing tools; by using popular songs, I.W.W. songwriters could be sure Fellow Workers were familiar with the new union songs. Often a particular group of workers would request that a song be written, and the songwriter would oblige. Joe Hill wrote, by request and on his own, several songs for specific fights: “Where the Fraser River Flows,” for constructions workers in British Columbia; “It’s a Long Way Down to the Soupline,” contrasting the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco with the depressed conditions existing outside the fair; and “Casey Jones—the Union Scab,” written for strikers on the Harriman and Illinois Central Railroad system, which includes the Southern Pacific. In this parody, Joe Hill changed the popular Casey Jones from a hero to a scab, and the parody itself has remained at least as popular as the original.
Pete Seeger has been actively spreading songs of labor and social protest for over fifty years, lending his support by performing, recording, speaking, and serving on committees. In the fall of 1941, Seeger was a member of the Almanac Singers with Lee Hays, Millard Lampell, and Woody Guthrie, when Elizabeth Gurley Flynn brought them a case contained a few of Joe Hill’s private papers, making tangible the link between the organizing and songwriting of the Wobblies and that of the Almanacs. Seeger wrote in The Incompleat Folksinger of his admiration for Joe Hill, “a wonderful person” who was “single-mindedly dedicated to his cause, thoughtful toward others, and always militant.”
The Song Swappers performed with Pete Seeger on four Folkways albums (Folksongs of Four Continents 6911, Bantu Choral Folk Songs 6912, Camp Songs 7628 with Eric Darling, and Talking Union 5285). Many of the Song Swappers attended high school together and formed a group under the direction of Bob DeCormier. One of the Song Swappers, Mary Travers, was later a member of Peter, Paul, and Mary.
The Workers on the S. P. line to strike sent out a call,
But Casey Jones, the engineer, he wouldn’t strike at all;
His boiler it was leaking and the drivers on the bum,
And the engines and the bearings, they were all out of plumb.
Casey Jones kept his junk pile running;
Casey Jones was working double time;
Casey Jones got a wooden medal,
For being good and faithful on the S. P. line.
The Workers said to Casey, “Won’t you help us win this strike?”
But Casey said, “Let me alone, you’d better take a hike.”
Well, Casey’s wheezy engine ran right off the wheezy track,
And Casey hit the river with an awful smack.
Casey Jones hit the river bottom;
Casey Jones broke his bloomin’ spine;
Casey Jones turned into an angel,
He got a trip to heaven on the S. P. line.
When Casey got to heave way up to the Pearly Gate,
He said, “I’m Casey Jones, the guy that pulled the S. P. freight.”
“You’re just the man,” said Peter. “Our musicians are on strike.
You can get a job a-scabbing any time you like.”
Casey Jones got a job in heaven;
Casey Jones was doing mighty fine;
Casey Jones went scabbing on the angels,
Just like he did to workers on the S. P. line.
The angels got together, they said it wasn’t fair,
For Casey Jones to go around a-scabbing everywhere.
The Angel’s Union No. 23, they sure were there,
And they promptly fired Casey down the Golden Stairs.
Casey Jones went to hell a-flying.
“Casey Jones,” the Devil said. “Oh, fine.
Casey Jones get busy shoveling Sulphur;
It’s what you get for scabbing on the S. P. line.”