21 Songs About May Day that Capture the Spirit of Workers’ Rights

There is no better way to celebrate the milestones achieved by the workers and unions than through songs about May Day that praise the hard workers who make the world go round.

The holiday came into existence in the late 19th century, and it is a way to remember the struggles workers experienced due to mass industrialization.

During that period of industrialization, an average worker had to do 12-hour shifts 7 days a week to meet basic ends. Due to their protests, we enjoy 40-hour-a-week shifts, and kids are able to enjoy education instead of working.


21 Songs About May Day

Let these songs about May Day remind you about the progress unions and workers have made to create a better working environment as you celebrate the working man’s holiday.

Let them also inspire you to stand up for your rights at your workplace to create an even better environment.


1. Solidarity Forever – Pete Seeger

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The first song in this list is a trade union anthem that has lasted over a century. Though the song was composed by Ralph Chaplin, this rendition by Pete Seeger is famous globally.

The idea of the song came to the composer while he was assisting coal miners in their great strike in 1912. Several renditions of the labor movement anthem are sung in multiple languages.

Recommended: 21 Songs About Capitalism – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.


2. Looking For A Job – Todd Snider

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The next piece on this playlist is one of my favorite working man’s songs. It is from the perspective of a worker who comes to the realization that his employer needs him more than he needs the job.

The artist’s exemplary performance shows his clever songwriting capability in an intimate setting.


3. There Is Power In a Union – Billy Bragg

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There Is Power In a Union is a pro-labor union anthem. The track celebrates the importance of workers’ organized unions and includes an antiwar message.

The song’s message goes beyond the concept of workers against their bosses as it is about the resistance of oppressors.


4. Take This Job And Shove It – Johnny Paycheck

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David Allan Cole originally wrote this song, but Johnny Paycheck later popularized it. The song is about the bitterness of a worker working diligently for apparently little to no reward.

The song enjoyed high success upon its release, dominating the top spot of the country song chart for two weeks.


5. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton

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9 to 5 is a popular song that summarizes the typical job of an average worker in modern times. The lyrics cover complaints and frustration experienced due to inequality and injustices in an average workplace.

The angry complaints within the song’s theme show that women suffer more in the workplace as they are prone to experience misogyny and biases from their superiors.


6. Working For The Weekend – Loverboy

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Though the only reference to working on the song is in the title and a couple of verses, the song captures the plight of several modern-day workers.

Living a life of clocking in hours at work so that you can release the frustration on the weekend. The song features a new wave sound, incredible guitar riffs, and a big hook that will relieve you from the frustration of your job.


7. Roll The Union On – The Almanac Singers

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The Almanac Singers is a folk music groups specializing in topical songs such as anti-war, anti-racism, and advocating pro-union philosophy.

Some of the singers were Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, and Josh White. Their song Roll The Union On was the base of popularizing union labor movements that organized millions of workers.


8. Union Maid – The Almanac Singers

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Union Maid is a workers’ rights song written by Woody Guthrie as a request for a union song for a brave woman.

Its a nice story about a strong woman that refuses to stop unionizing.

Recommended: 21 Songs About Irony That Will Leave You Feeling Bittersweet.


9. We Shall Not Be Moved – Pete Seeger & The Almanac Singers

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The song We Shall Not Be Moved is based on a religious hymn of a similar title that was popular in black congregations in American churches.

The song became popular internationally during the 20th-century movements for union organizing. The song is about workers fighting against oppressive employers, dangerous working conditions, and lower wages.


10. 1913 Massacre – Arlo Guthrie

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Arlo Guthrie sings his father’s version, Woody Guthrie’s song, about a union party that led to the death of 73 people. The ballad takes us through Michigan, which is haunted by the events of the 1913 massacre.

It is one of the saddest songs about May Day in this compilation, as it shows the level of malice by some bosses.


11. Workhorse – Mastodon

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The heavy metal song by Mastodon from their album Remission, released in 2002, equates modern-day wages to slavery. The song acknowledges that you won’t survive in a capitalistic world without work, hence forming a culture of work, sleep, and more work.

The song received critical acclaim upon its release.


12. More Than a Paycheck – Sweet Honey In The Rock

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The collective voices of the singers in Sweet Honey In The Rock produce a soulful harmony and intricate rhythms that will definitely adore the listeners. Their song has a heavy message about working conditions experienced by women of color.

The lyrics talk about how women bring more than a salary as they risk their lives every day for their families, working in terrible conditions and facing serious health hazards such as lung diseases.


13. We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger

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Pete Seeger is one of the pioneers of songs about May Day, as he has several hits that focus on the unionization of workers and their rights.

We Shall Overcome originated from a gospel tune and was first sung by string tobacco workers in South Carolina during the protest.


14. It’s My Job – Jimmy Buffet

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It’s My Job is the lead single from The Coconut Telegraph, Jimmy Buffet’s tenth Studio album. The sweet song has a simple message of always taking pride in your work no matter the job you do.


15. Rush Hour Blues – The Kinks

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The English rock band, The Kinks, began their music career playing British rhythms and Blues but ultimately changed genres.

Their types of music are highly influenced by American R&B and little hints of Rock n’ Roll. The song narrates a story of a celebrity going undercover in a regular workplace.

The lyrics stand out as they perfectly capture the frenzies of getting into an ordinary job for the first time.

Recommended: 21 Heartwarming Songs About Adoption That Will Make You Smile.


16. 40-hour Week (For A Livin’) – Alabama

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“40-hour Week” is a song written by country music band Alabama and released in 1985. This beautiful song is a salute to American blue-collar workers who are the backbone of the country’s economy.


17. 16 Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford

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16 Tons is one of the most popular songs about May Day, with several renditions from popular artists. The song was first written by Merle Travis in 1946, but Tennessee Erne Ford made it a global sensation.

The song is about the plight of coal miners in Kentucky and has gotten famous in American culture in the post-World War 2 period.


18. The Ballad of Joe Hill – Phil Ochs

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This ballad tells the sad story of a union leader Joe Hill whose death was orchestrated to silence workers’ collective bargaining.

Though the song is long, it shows the malice conspired between bosses and local enforcement to tie Joe Hill to a crime he did not commit. The song was originally a poem by Alfred Hayes.


19. Bread and Roses – Joan Baez

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Bread and roses is a slogan employed by female activists fighting for their rights to better workplace conditions. The message relayed by the song is that it is not enough for the worker to make a sustainable basic living alone but also access to finer things in life.


20. Fifty Thousand LumberJacks – Joe Glazer

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This folk song is a celebration of one of the most widespread lumberjack strikes in 1917. The song describes the horrible living conditions experienced by the workers and extolls the importance of worker solidarity.

Though it becomes a forgotten rallying cry in years to come, it is Joe Glazer’s take on the piece that brought it back into popularity, making it an anthem fitting Labor Day celebration.


21. They’ll Never Keep Us Down – Hazel Dickens

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The last song on this playlist is from Hazel Dickens, an American bluegrass singer who is a bassist and a guitarist. Her style of music is characterized as pro-union, with some focusing on feminism.

Her protest song focuses on the greed of some employers and a cry to unionize so that workers won’t be kept down.


Last Words

In honor of workers’ rights, I have compiled a playlist of songs about May Day focusing on unions and working people. The songs about work and working people on the list cut across multiple generations and genres.


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Music is the lifeblood of my veins. I love to listen, play and write music. Being a music band manager is what I love to do mostly because I love working with artists on their personal branding and brand building while helping them find the next level of success.

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