News & Politics

How Tom Morello Joins Optimism and His Music to Help Out Labor Unions

The longtime political guitarist and singer continues his impeccable track record with conjoining culture and progressive politics.

Tom Morello's been a righteous political musician since the beginning of his career -- after playing guitar in legendary rabble rousing rock band Rage Against the Machine, he continued the polemical thread in Audioslave, Street Sweeper Social Club (with stalwart political rapper Boots Riley of The Coup), and with his solo project, The Nightwatchmen. Clearly, his pro-labor stance is illustrated in the monikers of the latter two, not to mention his promotion of activism through culture. (See: his awesome, four-year-old foundation Axis of Justice, which unites popular progressive musicians with their fans for grassroots organizing.)

But with his most recent track, he gets even more explicit. 'Union Town,' which he released last week, is part of a forthcoming EP whose proceeds will go to's America Votes Labor Unity Fund (where the MP3 is presently downloadable for free). In the track, he streams in some of his signature guitar distortion and effects, but for the most part it's a pared down, acoustic guitar vocal track with a rough-voiced confidence – a song in the tradition of old protest folksingers of the '60s and '70s. Dylan comes to mind, vocally speaking – the decrescendo drop-offs of his phrasing recall ol' Bob's mushmouthed defiance – but lyrically, it's as straightforward and anthemic as can be. This is a union town, a union town/ hold down the line. And if you come to strip our rights away, we'll give you hell every time. It's rejuvenating and inspiring -- and as down as you might feel about how the Republicans have tried to hijack the rights of union workers across the country, the footage of Wisconsin interspersed in the video, below, are a reminder that we won't go down quietly.

As Morello put it in a press release, "Performing in Madison, Wisconsin and seeing 100,000 people in the streets demanding justice inspired me to record an album of union fighting songs. I've been a proud union man for 22 years and my mom was a union public high school teacher, so for me this fight is very personal. Unions are a crucial counterweight to the raw corporate greed that torpedoed our economy, threatens our environment and wants to strip away decades of social progress. From Cairo to Madison, workers are pushing back and tyrants are falling. Here's a soundtrack for our fight."

Morello's Nightwatchmen EP will be out digitally on May 17. Contribute and join Morello in supporting labor unions right here. And watch for a full-length from Morello, World Wide Rebel Songs, out later this summer.


Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.
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