Pie in the Sky

In 2014, President Barack Obama officially made March 31 national Cesar Chavez Day. Chavez, as you may know, was a Mexican-American farmworker and labor activist who helped form what is today known as the United Farm Workers union. But before Chavez (1927–1993) there was another, similar-minded activist named Joe Hill. Born in 1879, Hill was a Swedish-American songwriter, farm labor advocate and member of the Industrial Workers of the World. During Hill’s times, when migrant workers sought a better life, they were told they would get their reward “in the sweet by-and-by,” a phrase derived from a late 1800s Christian hymn that can also be heard in the film Django Unchained. Hill wrote a parody of the song called “The Preacher and the Slave” that substitutes the phrase “pie in the sky” — basically an empty promise of plenty in heaven. Instead of waiting for one’s reward, Hill stressed the need for a livable wage, good working conditions and ample food in the here and now.