Singer Releases Pro-Union Response to 'Rich Men North of Richmond'

Billy Bragg offers up his 'Rich Men Earning North of a Million'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 23, 2023 3:21 AM CDT
Singer Releases Pro-Union Response to 'Rich Men North of Richmond'
A fan waiting to watch Oliver Anthony perform at Eagle Creek Golf Club and Grill in Moyock, N.C., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, wears a shirt reading "In Oliver We Trust" over an American Flag.   (Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

When English singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg first heard Oliver Anthony's viral hit, "Rich Men North of Richmond," he was into it—Anthony starts out, after all, by decrying working "overtime hours for bull---- pay"—and then, when he got to the lines attacking "the obese milkin' welfare," Bragg started assuming the song must be a parody. But he was wrong—it's very much sincere—and so Bragg decided to write a response. His "Rich Men Earning North of a Million" lays the blame for society's problems where, Bragg says, it really should go: at the feet of those aforementioned rich men, who, the lyrics to his song say, "wanna keep the working folk down." Bragg's song suggests those who are fed up with the existing system join a union, organize, and fight for better pay.

In a companion essay at the Guardian, Bragg explains further: Anthony's song "punches down on the poor," even while claiming solidarity with them. Anthony claims the rich are the ones causing society's problems, but his song actually benefits them, suggesting the answer is to cut taxes and welfare. "It's a classic example of the divisive narrative that bosses have used to pit worker against worker since the days of Joe Hill," Bragg writes. "If the poor are fighting one another over racial hierarchy or cultural grievance, their anger will be directed away from the people responsible for their plight—the rich who exploit those in work and abandon those in need." Read his full essay, and listen to his song, here. (More Oliver Anthony stories.)

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