I recently started a part-time job at a library on campus, stamping and source-marking books and manuscripts in acquisitions. My first project has been to sort through a large array of broadside ballads and booklets of songs. Last Friday I happened upon something pretty great: the December 17, 1890 edition of the Dock, Wharf, Riverside & General Labourers’ Union of Great Britain & Ireland. The issue is a collection of labor songs, and one on the front page struck me as particularly linked to contemporary issues. Unsurprisingly, it seems workers chanted against the stark inequality of the top one percent long before last September. Here’s a scanned copy, with the text below.
“There are Ninety and Nine”There are ninety and nine that work and die In want and hunger and cold, That one may live in luxury, And be lapped in the silken fold! And ninety and nine in their hovels bare, And one in a palace of riches rare. From the sweat of their brows the desert blooms, And the forest before them falls; Their labour has builded humble homes And cities with lofted halls, And the one owns cities and houses and lands, And the ninety and nine have empty hands. But the night so dreary and dark and long At last shall the morning bring; And over the land the victors’ song Of the ninety and nine shall ring, And echo afar, from zone to zone, “Rejoice! for Labour shall have its own!”