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Research Guides

Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection: IWW Song Book

Interpretive exhibit examining the historical and cultural context of the the Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection at the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

About the Little Red Songbook

Songs of the Industrial Workers of the World, colloquially known as the "Little Red Songbook," stands as a compendium of the IWW's music. These pocket-sized booklets served as a key element in the IWW's protests and were typically available for a nominal fee. The songs contained within were ingeniously crafted to match the melodies of religious hymns, contemporary popular tunes, and folk standards. By repurposing these familiar melodies, IWW songs could be easily learned and sung by groups with minimal preparation. In an amusing twist, it's even said that the Salvation Army band once tried to drown out the IWW singers, but they simply adapted their lyrics to the band's music.

The songs within the "Little Red Songbook" employed a mix of parody, satire, sharp humor, and earnest intent. They effectively conveyed the IWW's vision of labor and class struggle, as well as their aspiration for an "Industrial Commonwealth" and the advocacy of worker's rights.

The inaugural edition of this songbook was published in 1909 by the Spokane branch of the IWW during their Free Speech Fight. Subsequently, more than 37 editions were published by the IWW, featuring diverse songs composed by various IWW songwriters. Notably, the songbook includes Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever," which later became an anthem for various labor movements, playing a prominent role in the labor organizing efforts of the 1930s. Over time, Chaplin's 1915 composition established itself as a fixture in the American labor movement and was adopted as the official song of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Among the songbook's most influential contributors were Joe Hill, along with other prolific Wobbly songwriters such as Richard Brazier, Ralph Chaplin, Laura Payne Emerson, Covington Hall, James Connell, and Charles Ashleigh.

In each songbook, you can expect to find the Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World, typically on the inside front cover. The back pages or cover often contained instructions on how to join the IWW, occasionally accompanied by a list of IWW publications.

For those interested in exploring digitized versions of the songbooks, please follow this link: IWW Songbook Digitized Collection.

For a deeper dive into the history of the IWW Songbook, consider reading:


"Rebel Girl" & "Worker Come Join the Union"


Title: "Rock-A-By-Baby" (Parody)

Rock-a-bye, baby,
Atop a tree so high.
When you reach adulthood,
A workshop's where you'll ply.

Marriage awaits you,
Both you and your spouse,
Toiling for the wealthy,
Leaving them with no use.

Hush now, dear baby,
On that lofty tree's crest.
As you age, your wages,
Shall come to a rest.

Savings you've gathered,
So meager, so small,
Will dwindle away,
Leaving you to fall.

To the poorhouse, you'll journey,
And then to the grave,
This parody's tale,
Of the life that we crave.

  • IWW Scrapbook, Box/Folder 5/19,
    Industrial Workers of the World Seattle Joint Branches Records.
    Labor Archives of Washington State,
    University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, Seattle, Washington.