The Red Flag was sung at one of the first Cape Breton Island May Day parades in Glace Bay in 1923.

About Garry Leech

Garry Leech is an independent journalist and lecturer in Political Science at CBU. He is the author of several books, including Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia (Beacon Press, 2008) and Crude Interventions: The United States, Oil and the New World (Dis)Order (Zed Books, 2006). He is also the co-author of The People Behind Colombian Coal: Mining, Multinationals and Human Rights (Pisando Callos, 2007). Most recently he helped to establish Cape Breton Independent, an online news source that presents coverage of local, national and global issues of political, social and economic significance that are often ignored by the mainstream media and Canada’s dominant political parties. The Cape Breton Independent is published by the J. B. McLachlan Media Collective, which was established in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 2013. The Collective is a democratic organization in which all members have an equal voice. It is named after Cape Breton union leader James Bryson McLachlan who was at the forefront of the struggle for social justice during the early decades of the 20th century.
Before becoming an academic and journalist, Garry kicked around New York City playing in punk rock bands.

This song is dedicated to Liliany Obando, a unionist who has been a political prisoner in Colombia since August 2008.

James Connell (1852-1929) and The Red Flag

Irishman Jim Connell wrote the lyrics for “The Red Flag” in 1889 after attending a lecture on socialism at a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation in England. The song was inspired by the London dock strike happening at that time, as well as by the Irish Land League, the Paris Commune, the Russian nihilists and Chicago anarchists. The song soon became an anthem for the international labour movement. While Connell originally imagined the lyrics being sung to the melody of the Scottish folk song “The White Cockade,” it was more often sung to the tune of the German carol “O Tannenbaum.”1[1] “The Red Flag: The Song, the Man, the Monument,” Cape Breton miners and steelworkers marching in May Day Parades in Glace Bay during the 1920s regularly sang “The Red Flag.” In this collection of protest songs, Connell’s lyrics are sung to a new and original melody. Folklorist Archie Green provides more historical context to the origins of this labour song. He points out that it appeared in one of the first Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) Songbooks and as the melodic source for other tunes such as “Joe Hill in Jail,” “Harvesters,” “I.W.W. Prison Song,” and “November Nineteenth.” A number of other parodies of this song are also found.2[2] Green, “John Neuhaus: Wobbly Folklorist,” p. 197. In the Cape Breton protest song collection we discovered two other versions of “The Red Flag,” one that lists the composer as Celia Baldwin in 1924.3[3] Maritime Labour Herald, 17 May 1924, p. 8. References Green, Archie. “John Neuhaus: Wobbly Folklorist,” The Journal of American Folklore. Vol. 73, No. 289 (Jul. – Sep., 1960), pp. 189-217.


The Workers’ flag is deepest red,
It shrouded off our martyred dead.
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
Their hearts blood died its every fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Tho cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise;
In Moscow’s square its hymns are sung;
Chicago swells the surging song.

It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

With head uncovered swear we all,
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim,
The song shall be our parting hymn.

MLH, April 28, 1923 p.8

Sydney Post Record  1 May, 1923

May 1 1923 Red Flag

May Day Parade, Glace Bay: Singing of