The American protest singer “Woody” Guthrie is familiar to many because of his song “This Land is Your Land.” He was born on July 14, 1912, and came of age musically and politically in the radicalizing Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression.It was the ’30s and economic calamity that made him a force. After enduring drought, disappearing topsoil and an onslaught of insolvent mortgages, millions of Americans became economic refugees, heading West "Rich man took my home and drove me from my door / And I ain't got no home in this world anymore". Guthrie went, too. Hitchhiking or riding in freight-train boxcars, he created and shared songs that recorded and expressed the hardships of poverty and injustice.
He wrote more than 3,000 songs in his short career. His songs include “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh,” “(This Train is) Bound for Glory,” “Going Down the Road (Feeling Bad),” “Let’s Go Ridin’ in the Car,” “Union Maid,” "I Ain't Got No Home," and "Vigilante Man." Social realities of inequality, poverty, war, racism, environmental destruction, hunger, unemployment and the exploitation of working folk inspired him.
Inequality of wealth, income and power worsen and undermine possibilities for meaningful democracy and solidarity, two forces at the core of Woody’s politics. The exploitation of workers since 1980 has intensified: Pensions are taken away, unions are attacked and wages are declining as worker productivity and hours of labor increase
50 percent of people in the U.S. live in or near poverty. Meanwhile, corporations and big banks make record profits. In his song “I Ain’t Got No Home,” Woody sang about the crazy world where “the bankin’ man is rich, and the workin’ folks is poor.” It’s crazy still. Not much changes. He wrote about immigration, banks, the disenfranchised, and many of those topics are with us still. “The Jolly Banker” will “come and foreclose, take your car and your clothes”. “Pretty Boy Floyd” includes the lines "Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.”
Woody dedicated his work to denouncing injustice, indignity and inequality, while also announcing the possibilities for a better world. That might be his most important lesson: We must work to understand the world and use that understanding to work and struggle to create a better world. In the song “Pastures of Plenty,” Woody sang, “we’ll work in this fight, and we’ll fight ‘til we win.
Guthrie found his place in the world as a troubadour supporting farmworkers and union movements. His sympathies were always with the poor and the powerless. His politics veered far to the Left but he was too independent to be an actual Communist Party card-carrier. Woody called himself a “commonist. ” Commonism, he said, means a world “where there shall be no want among you.”
For more see Socialist Standard article on Guthrie