"As a labour movement, we will always appreciate the sacrifices he made to make the world a more just place. Now, it is up to us to carry on his message." — James Clancy, NUPGE National President.
Ottawa (29 Jan. 2014) – Known for his beautiful, melodic voice, Pete Seeger traveled the world sharing songs of struggle and hope. On January 28, Seeger died in New York City surrounded by friends and family.
Strong roots to trade unions and working people
Seeger's musical career took off in the 1940s and '50s, when he was part of the group The Weavers, especially after the hit, "Goodnight Irene" but many of his songs were more political in nature. Those messages brought the attention of the McCarthy Commission, which was hunting the United States for Communists and Communist sympathizers. Seeger was hauled in front of the Commission for questioning about his convictions about social justice, peace and the rights of workers. As a result, he and others in The Weavers were blacklisted by McCarthy.
Being on McCarthy's blacklist didn't stop Seeger
In the 1960s, Seeger's musical talents took him in a different direction. He left his studies at Harvard University to take his music and message on the road, reaching a different, less mainstream audience. He played at union halls, political meetings and on college and university campuses across the country.
Some of Seeger's most well-known songs are still anthems in social and labour movements around the world.Some of Seeger's songs, such as "Where have all the flowers gone," "Turn, turn, turn," "Which side are you on," and "If I had a hammer," went on to greater fame after being recorded by other musicians.
On of the most significant songs in Seeger's career was "We shall overcome" which was adopted by the American civil rights movement. At the age of 92, Seeger marched with the Occupy movement in New York City, once again lending his support and voice to building a movement based on fairness. Reports say that while Seeger was marching the 2 mile route, a police officer approached him. Fearing his grandfather would be hassled, Seeger's grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, stayed close. Instead, the officer reached out and shook his hand, thanking him for his support.
Seeger helped popularize folk and protest music
"It is hard to think of the political work during those years, without associating them with Pete Seeger's music," said James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPGE). "His music told the stories of people struggling, workers' rights and solidarity. They gave strength and encouragement to those working to make positive political change."
"He risked his musical career for his beliefs and his commitment to fairness and equality," Clancy continued, "and used his own voice to speak for many who could not. As a labour movement, we will always appreciate the sacrifices he made to make the world a more just place. Now, it is up to us to carry on his message."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE