Ralph Chaplin finishes writing Solidarity Forever, perhaps the most famous labour anthem of all

October 13, 2017

Chaplin’s poem, sung to the same tune as “John Brown’s Body”, which was also adopted as the tune for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, is perhaps the most recognizable and best-known union song.

Written as a song for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and first used as a marching song at a hunger demonstration in Chicago, on the very day it was completed.

Later in life, Chaplin would express deep regret that his poem – which calls for workers to stand together and take over the world – had become the anthem for industrial unionism and social democratic/labour political parties. Still, countless singers and musicians have performed the song over the past century. Unions even composed variations of the original Solidarity Forever to reflect the changing face of their membership and new priorities.

The words have also been adapted to reflect the changing face and priorities of the labour movement.


Solidarity Forever
Lyrics by Ralph Chaplin, 1915

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.


Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.


It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.


All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.
We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.


They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.


In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.


A variation used in Canada:

We’re the women of the union in the forefront of the fight,
We fight for women’s issues, we fight for women’s rights,
We’re prepared to fight for freedom, we’re prepared to stand our ground,
Women make the union strong.


Through our sisters and our brothers, we can make our union strong,
For respect and equal value we have done without too long,
We no longer have to tolerate injustices and wrongs,
For the union makes us strong.


When racism in all of us is finally out and gone,
Then the union movement will be twice as powerful and strong,
For equality for everyone will move the cause along,
For the union makes us strong.





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