A pro-union anthem that speaks to “working people” of all kinds
August 20, 2023 | 11:18 p.m. ET
Billy Bragg has revealed a new song, “Rich Men Earning North of a Million,” which is inspired by Oliver Anthony’s single “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
Introducing the song, the English folk artist explained, “Ever since I saw the clip of Oliver Anthony singing his song ‘Rich Men North of Richmond,’ the ghost of Woody Guthrie has been whispering in my ear.” To deal with those issues he sings about.’ So I sat down today and wrote this response to Mr. Anthony’s song, for people like him and people like you.”
The result is a pro-union anthem that doesn’t discriminate, but rather speaks to “working people” of all kinds.
“If you sell your soul, work all day. Overtime hours for pay bullshit. Nothing’s gonna change if all you do is wish you’d wake up and it ain’t right,” Bragg sings in the opening verse. “organize. Fight for better salaries. You’d better join a guild, brother. Organize today.”
“Where the problem really is is when the union comes in. The rich men who earn northern salaries of a million people want to keep the work force,” Bragg continues. “If you form a union, you will soon find that working people are of one kind. So, we will not criticize those who need a little understanding and some solidarity. That is not right, friends.”
In the following verses, Bragg stresses the union’s role in providing affordable health care, and calls for “culture wars” intended to divert attention from more pressing issues.
“If you’re struggling with your health and gaining weight, the doctor gives you opioid painkillers to help you get around,” he sings. Wouldn’t it be better for people like you and me if medicine was subsidized and medicine was free? Join a guild.”
“Know your culture wars are there to distract you while liberal billionaires avoid paying taxes. You want to talk about baths while the floodwaters rise, and the jungle is on fire… They want to divide us because together we’re strong. Would you take action now that you’re singing your goddamn song? You don’t like a man to have fun.” Wealthy with full control, it’s better to let the guild roll.”
Bragg closes his song with a final message of solidarity: “No matter if you live in a city or a small country town, a rich man earning north of a million wants to keep working folk.”
Listen to Bragg’s song “The Rich Who Make North of a Million” below.
Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” has garnered nearly 30 million views since its release earlier this month. However, critics have pointed to the song’s negative portrayal of welfare recipients and its association with right-wing populism, as well as questioning whether the manufactured background was responsible for its sudden rise in popularity.
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