JoeHill-WebTo mark the life of union organizer, songwriter, and cartoonist Joe Hill, the GHC is pleased to release this free commemorative colouring poster entitled “Don’t Mourn, Organize!” (see contest instructions below).

Hill was executed by the state of Utah 100 years ago, on 19 November 1915.

Joel Emmanuel Hägglund (also known as Joseph Hillström, or Joe Hill) was born on 7 October 1879 in Gävle, Sweden. He travelled to North America as an itinerant worker in the early twentieth century and quickly became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Hill used art as an organizing tool to inspire his fellow workers to fight for a better world.

His hopeful and humourous songs, like “The Preacher and the Slave,” “The Rebel Girl,” “Casey Jones—The Union Scab,” and “There is Power in the Union,” remain classics to this day.

In 1914, Hill was arrested for murder in Salt Lake City on trumped-up charges, and on 19 November 1915 the state of Utah executed him. On the eve of his execution, Hill drew up his will:

My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kind don’t need to fuss and moan –
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”
My body? Ah, If I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will.
Good luck to all of you.

The state wanted to silence Joe Hill. In defiance, he goaded his executioners with his last words: “Fire – go on and fire!” Hill died as he lived: a true rebel.

Though much has been written about him since his death, Joe urged his contemporaries not to waste time mourning but to instead focus on the task at hand: organizing the working class. 100 years on, Hill’s songs and art continue to inspire workers around the world to do just that: organize!

In that spirit, we hope that this union-made colouring poster, illustrated by GHC artist Kara Sievewright, will give folks a chance to reflect on Joe Hill’s life and the importance of art to working-class struggle.

CONTEST INSTRUCTIONS: Please download and print the poster (using this PDF), colour it, and send us a picture (on your fridge, at work, get creative) to win a signed copy of the GHC’s first comic book, May Day: A Graphic History of Protest. Please send your pictures by Friday, December 4, 2015 to graphichistorycollective@gmail.com, or tweet us your picture to @GHC_Comics. We will post the submissions on our website. This is an all-ages contest.

In love and solidarity!
The GHC

We are members of the Canadian Freelance Union.

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Further Reading & Listening

For more on the life and art of Joe Hill, see Franklin Rosemont, Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Workingclass Counterculture (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 2003).

On the history of the IWW, in comics form no less, see Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World.

For a recent recording of Joe Hill’s songs, see Bucky Halker’s record, Anywhere But Utah – The Songs of Joe Hill.

For the many tribute songs that have been written and performed, listen to Paul Robeson, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and David Rovics.

For more on Joe Hill’s Canadian connections, see GHC contributor Ron Verzuh’s short film, Joe Hill’s Secret Canadian Hideout.

On the IWW in Canada, see GHC Associate Member Mark Leier’s book Where the Fraser River Flows: The Industrial Workers of the World in British Columbia (Vancouver: New Star Books, 1990).

 

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