Union organizer Joe Hill is as much a folk legend as an actual historical figure. Known best as a folk musician and cartoonist, Joe Hill was also a dedicated union organizer who was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which were also somewhat infamously known as the Wobblies. Among the most controversial unions of all time, the Wobblies none the less were dedicated to improving the conditions of the workers in the increasingly industrialized nations of the world. This was particularly true of the of United States, where rapid industrialization was more and more leaving workers in an ever more precarious position, living harsh lives with little security.
Joe Hill was born in Sweden in 1879 and moved to the United States at unclear time in the early 1900s. He learned English very well over the years and when he became a migrant worker. These were hard years for the man as he frequently faced unemployment and underemployment, oftentimes having difficulty making ends meet. During this time, he found his way into the IWW and the larger Labor Movement. It was there that he made his mark on the world. His most famous contributions to the IWW are his works as a song writer, where he composed a number of anthems of laborers intended to raise the spirits of workers who had little to run on but the hope that together they could change their conditions.
His most famous song by a larger margin is “The Preacher and the Slave” which coined the phrase “pie in the sky” and was inspired heavily by the Wobblies’ clashes with the then far more militant Salvation Army during the larger battles over labor. He wrote a number of other songs as well, many of which were included in the now famous IWW’s Little Red Songbook, an icon of the move itself.