Editor’s Note: Pulaski Schools Superintendent Mel Lightner has denied that the song played by the Pulaski High Schools "Red Raiders" was Woody Guthrie’s "Union Maid." He says it was a regular piece of the band’s repertoire called the "Red Wing Polka," which has the same tune as "Union Maid." "Red Wing Polka," according to Superintendent Lightnter, was a favorite of the band leader’s grandmother. We apologize for jumping the gun.
The Rose Bowl has always been the oldest and most storied game of the entire college football bowl season. Its roots extend back to 1902, earning the nickname "the Granddaddy of Them All.” Even today, floating in the septic tank that is the Bowl Championship Series, plastered with corporate branding and officially renamed the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, it has retained much of its’ stature and glory. This year, the Oregon Ducks beat the Wisconsin Badgers in the highest scoring Rose Bowl in history, winning 45-38.
Despite the loss, the state of Wisconsin still made their mark in grand fashion. Per Rose Bowl (apologies: Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio) tradition high school marching bands from Wisconsin and Oregon performed as part of the festivities. One of the bands from Wisconsin, the Pulaski High School “Red Raiders,” abruptly interrupted their own performance of “On Wisconsin” and on live TV, and played a far different tune. It was the classic Woody Guthrie anthem for labor and women’s rights, “Union Maid.” (Go to the 1 minute 15 second part of the video for the song)
After a year when Wisconsin became ground zero in a reemergence of mass struggle in the United States, and during a time when the people of the state of Wisconsin are attempting to recall their anti-union governor Scott Walker, the choice of Union Maid spoke volumes.
This is a song dripping with working class radicalism. Pete Seeger, Guthrie’s fellow Almanac Singer, recalls in his autobiography that he “was present when ‘Union Maid’ was written in June, 1940, in the plain little office of the Oklahoma City Communist Party. Bob Wood, local organizer, had asked Woody Guthrie and me to sing there the night before for a small group of striking oil workers.”
Guthrie had apparently been asked to write a union tune specifically taking up the women’s struggle. The song’s chorus leaves little room for ambiguity:
“Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union! I’m sticking to the union, ‘till the day I die!”
At the time of this writing, it’s not known whether Walker saw the telecast, let alone recognized the song. But for a small high school from a town of barely 3,000 people to break the mold at an event normally so tightly orchestrated as the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio, it was a remarkable moment.