Zero to 180’s tribute to labor continues with (The) Strawbs‘ unabashed and unequivocal anthem to The Working Man — everybody sing along now:
“Part of the Union“
“Part of the Union” came close to hitting the number 1 spot on the UK Singles Chart in February 1973. The song also enjoyed release as a single in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Venezuela, and the UK, as well as US (plus Thailand, unofficially).
Record World — who picked “Part Of The Union” as one of its “Hits Of The Week” for March 17, 1973 — was optimistic about the single’s prospects here in the States:
Infectious ditty is huge in England and could become an anthem for the working man. Tune should break group over here and help sell forthcoming LP, Bursting At The Seams. Great hook, piano break and lyrics should make record part of the charts.
LP Musician Credits
Dave Lambert – Lead/Backing Vocals & Acoustic/Electric Guitars
Dave Cousins – Lead/Backing Vocals & Acoustic/Electric Guitars + Banjo
John Ford – Lead/Backing Vocals & Bass Guitar
Blue Weaver – Organ/Piano/Mellotron – Blue Weaver
A news item in RPM‘s May 26, 1973 edition — “Union Complains To CRTC Re: No Radio Air” — reports of complaints by Ottawa’s Sudbury And District Labour Council that anti-union feeling was behind the decision of Sudbury radio not to broadcast “Part of the Union”:
The Sudbury and District Labour Council recently grabbed a lot of press publicity across Canada for their presentation of UK recording group The Strawbs in a Sudbury concert May 19. The Council hit the newspapers when it complained to the Canadian Radio-Television Commission about the refusal of local radio stations to play the Strawbs’ latest single record.
The single, “Part of the Union”, speaks of “always get my way if I strike for higher pay” and of “the lies of the company spies”. The labour group claims anti -union feeling is behind the decision of Sudbury radio not to air the record.
Chuck Babcock, station manager of CHNO, said no pressure had been placed on his station by International Nickel Company, the city’s largest employer. But Babcock did say “after reviewing the record, we decided not to play it. This is a major labour town and everyone who thinks of a company thinks of Inco … it’s inflammatory.” He said policy might be different if the record was Top 25 but at the time it ranked 72 on the RPM national single survey.
Meantime at CKSO, personnel there indicated that the decision not to air the record was made without consulting Inco. CRTC spokesmen in Ottawa, commenting on the complaint filed by the Sudbury and District Labour Council, said the Commission would never force any radio station to play any specific record.
“Part of the Union”:
Pro-Union or Anti-Union?
Although the lyrics could be read as satirical of the trade union movement, the band has frequently stated that that’s not the case at all. In fact the song was picked up by the trade unions and became something of an unofficial anthem for them.” A number of other web sources state that “Rick Wakeman, who was in the band from March 1970 to July 1971, and a strong supporter of the UK’s Conservative Party, has since claimed that the lyrics were meant to be sarcastic.” More intriguing is the Free Online Library’s claim that the Conservative Party even “assembled Parliament to vote for banning the song.
LINK to Labor Politics in Popular Music