Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman, Union Town (New West Records, 2011)
The drama began when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker indicated that his budget would strip public workers of collective bargaining rights. Since Walker had all the votes he needed from his followers, it appeared to be a done deal. However, there was a catch: the budget could pass only if there were a quorum for the vote. Absent the fourteen Democratic senators, no quorum, no vote, no budget approval. To the chagrin of Walker and his party leaders, the Democratic senators, subsequently dubbed the "Fab 14," skipped town, biding their time in Illinois.
The border-crossing was an inspired ploy that bought time for tens of thousands of protesters to occupy the capitol building and adjacent streets, and brought national attention to the plight of Wisconsin workers. Guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, aka the Night Watchman, told Rolling Stone Magazine how he became involved:
"… I've strummed my guitar at innumerable demonstrations. I've been arrested more times than I'm willing to put in print in support of striking workers. But I thought now is the time to take a break. I have a 16-month-old son crawling around on the floor and another baby boy about to be born any day now… But when I turned on the television and saw 100,000 people marching through the streets of MADISON, WISCONSIN to protest an anti-union bill put forward by… Governor Walker, it caught my attention. I turned to my wife and said, "Honey, our boys are gonna grow up to be union men." She sighed and replied, "The Nightwatchman is needed. You should go. ("Frostbite and Freedom: Tom Morello on the Battle of Madison" in Rolling Stone).
The title cut and opening track, "Union Town," with its references to the kids locked in the Capitol, is a paean to the protesters in Madison. Most of the subsequent songs are old chestnuts like "Which Side Are You On?," "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," "16 Tons," and "This Land is Your Land." The final cut, "Union Song," was recorded live in Madison on February 21, 2011.
On this pro-labor collection, the Morello bookends are shots of adrenaline, energy for starting the race and crossing the finish line; in between are songs for the long haul. In contrast to the Morello opener, the performance of the subsequent song, "Which Side Are You On?," is subdued, likewise with Morello's closer and the much quieter penultimate cut, "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night." At the center of the CD, the worker in "16 Tons" is defiant but "another day older and deeper in debt." And, while the chorus in Woody Guthrie's answer to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" is affirming, "this land is your land, this land is my land," some of its verses paint a different picture.
At 1:17 a.m., on February 25, while the Democratic senators were out of state, Governor Walker's supporters passed a rewritten bill — one that did not require a quorum for a vote — which stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights. For some this was a great victory, for others an occasion to recall Woody Guthrie's "national anthem."
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office I see my people
And some are grumblin' and all are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me
("This Land is Your Land")