One of the most powerful ways of recording labour movement history is in song; songs telling the history of struggles that are themselves part of the struggle they commemorate and which live on to inspire future generations of labour movement activists.
In the last decade of the 20th century, the conservative Court Government in Western Australia undertook a massive attack on the rights of workers and the influence of unions, a forerunner to the Work Choices era imposed by the Howard Government from 2005. The First Wave legislation in WA in 1993 which introduced workplace agreements in place of awards was followed by the Second Wave (1995) and the Third Wave (1997) which attempted to restrict unions’ right to organise.
In August 1996, the WA Trades and Labour Council (now Unions WA) asked Perth singer/songwriter Bernard Carney to write a song reflecting the national implications of the assault on workers’ rights.
That song, Stand Together, was sung by the 30,000 people marching on the WA parliament on 29 April, 1997 in the biggest rally in WA’s industrial history, the Third Wave Rally, and at all subsequent rallies.
It is now sung by union choirs across Australia – and is of course an integral part of the repertoire of Bernard’s own choir, the Perth Working Voices, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2014.
By Bernard Carney
We will all stand together and sing a union song,
We will all stand together and know that we belong
To the strength of the future in a common working bond.
Stand together and sing a union song.
There’s trouble fast approaching and the skies are overcast,
But let us not lose sight of all the lessons of the past;
The victories that were fought for in battles loud and long
By the millions who sang a union song.
United we will bargain but divided we must fall;
Injustice to the one will mean injustice to us all.
But when we stand together the future will belong
To the millions who sing a union song.
It was on the first of May that I heard the union say
Eight hours of decent working for eight hours of decent pay
And we won’t forget the reasons we’re marching here today
With the millions who sing a union song
[Bernard wrote an additional verse particularly for Miscellaneous Workers Union (now United Voice) members, which is sometimes also sung:]
They call us miscellaneous; we’re the workers you don’t see.
We’re casual and we’re vulnerable; we’re faceless employees.
But we’ll organise our workplace and build our union strong
So our children can sing a union song.
*Song lyrics reproduced by permission of the composer