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

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


May Day Maritime Labour Herald 5 May 1923, p.1

Singing of Red Flag by Steelworkers Maritime Labour Herald 12 May 1923, p. 1

Maritime Labor Herald

Sydney Post Record 2 May 1923, p. 8 : Report on the First May Day Parade in Cape Breton Island, 1923

May Day Parade, Glace Bay: Singing of