Pete Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) was born just to the north of Greenwich Village in Chelsea’s French Hospital. But much of his life, career, and activism were spent and rooted in our neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and the East Village.
Seeger’s involvement in the labor movement and unions spanned was legendary. Seeger was known for using his music as a tool to support workers’ rights and to bring attention to social justice issues.
In the 1930s, Seeger became involved in the labor movement and joined the Young Communist League. He started performing at union rallies and benefits, and his songs quickly became anthems for the labor movement. Seeger believed that music had the power to bring people together and inspire them to fight for their rights.
In Greenwich Village, Seeger was a member of the Almanac Singers, a group of musicians who used their music to advocate for social and political change. The group was formed in 1940 and included Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Sis Cunningham, Bess Lomax Hawes, and Millard Lampell, among many other notable musicians. The Almanac Singers performed at union rallies and organized labor events in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and beyond. They also wrote songs that addressed the struggles of workers, such as “Talking Union” and “Which Side Are You On?” Seeger was also a founding member of the People’s Songs organization, which aimed to promote socially conscious music and support the labor movement.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Seeger was blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his leftist political views. Despite this setback, he continued to perform at union rallies and benefits, and he wrote songs that spoke out against social injustice and inequality.
In the 1960s, Seeger continued to be involved in the labor movement and unions. He was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and he performed at rallies and benefits for the United Farm Workers and other labor organizations. He also played a key role in organizing the Newport Folk Festival, which became a showcase for politically conscious music.
Seeger’s involvement in labor and unions was not limited to his music career. He was an active participant in union campaigns and movements, and he often lent his support to striking workers. He was a regular attendee at the May Day rallies in New York City, and he marched with striking workers in various industries.
In 1965, Seeger helped to found the Clearwater organization, which aimed to clean up the Hudson River and promote environmental activism. The organization is also involved in promoting labor rights and social justice. Seeger believed that environmentalism and labor rights were intertwined issues that needed to be addressed together.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Seeger continued to be involved in union campaigns and movements. He supported the United Mine Workers of America during their strikes in the 1980s, and also supported the Justice for Janitors campaign, which aimed to improve the working conditions of janitors in New York City.
Seeger’s involvement in labor and unions was a defining aspect of his life and career. He used his music to bring attention to social and political issues, and he was a tireless advocate for workers’ rights and social justice. His legacy continues to inspire activists and musicians today.
In addition to his music, Seeger was an active participant in labor organizing. He served as a member of the executive board of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and advocated for fair compensation for musicians. He also worked with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and other labor organizations to promote workers’ rights.
Happy birthday to this son of the East Village and advocate for workers everywhere.