Blue collar rocker inspires activism among workers
By DEBORAH A. MILES
Since the beginning of the labor movement in 1866 with the establishment of the National Labor Union, men and women of all occupations and ethnicities have fought for worker respect, fair wages and hours, and safe working conditions.
Today, as union activism grows to meet the challenges of the 21st century such as securing pensions, having affordable and quality health care, and saving the right to collective bargaining, new voices are emerging.
One is Mike Stout, who became a steelworker at Homestead Steel Works in western Pennsylvania in the late 1970s. He was elected as the union’s head grievance man, and for his ability to inspire activism through his music.
Stout’s musical career began in 1968 where he performed protest songs in New York City coffee houses where Bob Dylan also played. At Homestead, his songs with strong lyrics motivated his co-workers and they fought to win more than $10 million in lost wages, severance pay, pensions and unemployment benefits for 3,000 workers.
Stout organized a benefit concert that drew national television and press coverage, and raised money to create the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to help displaced workers.
This blue collar rocker who sings with a cause in his heart has become an internationally known singer song-writer. He takes his music to picket lines and crusades against economic and environmental injustice. And for more than three decades, his songs tell the stories of the working class heroes of U.S. labor history and their struggles for peace, social justice and a decent standard of living.
His music has stirred audiences from local schools to concert halls in Paris, Denmark, Poland and Germany. One highlight was his 2007 German tour where he performed at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate playing for thousands at a national protest day. In that same year, he was presented the Mother Jones Award from the Pennsylvania Labor and Historical Society for his efforts as a social leader and performer who uses music to bring about change.
In 2012, he performed at a tribute concert to the 100th anniversary of the birth of folk-singer Woody Guthrie at a Pennsylvania labor event where he performed his ode to Guthrie, “America’s Favorite Son.”
John Hayes of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote, “In the Woody Guthrie tradition, Stout’s songs reflect contemporary issues without resorting to journalism. They are more like partisan op-ed columns that grab political opponents by the throat and don’t let go.”
Stout has said his songs and lyrics are influenced by artists such as Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, whom he called “musical heroes.”
Stout has recorded more than a dozen CDs, his most recent is “Blue and Green in Black and White.” Some of his songs calling for action include, “People Gonna Rise Again,” “We Need a Movement,” “We Are The Working Class,” and “People To People.”
Stout said he is not out to be a rich rock star.
“The kind of change I’m interested in ain’t coins or money, but social movements.”