Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pie in the Sky

What does the phrase "pie-in-the-sky" mean and where did it come from?

You've probably heard the phrase before, usually in reference to wacky ideas or improbable rewards.  If an idea or plan is pie in the sky, it seems good but is not likely to be achieved, as in "Those plans of his to set up his own business are just pie-in-the-sky!"

But the real source of the phrase was Joe Hill in 1911.  He was one the "Wobblies" - an early form of unionism more closely linked to Communism.  He wrote a song, called "The Preacher and the Slave" as a parody of some of the hymns of the time.

It is a pretty funny song, and illustrates how religion has been used through the ages to get people work against their own best interests.   Work hard, be religious, and your rewards will come in the next life.   Never mind the fact that the priests of the temple seem to be getting their rewards in the here and now.

But of course, the "Wobblies" (IWW members) were not exactly above using the same tactic.   "Join the Union!" they would say, "And everything will get better!"   In other words, they promised a pie-in-the-sky of their own.

And while working conditions have improved a lot since the days of the Pressed-Steel Car Company strike, unions (and in particular, the IWW) were not always the cause of these changes or even on the forefront of such changes.   Henry Ford doubled wages of his workers and instituted the 40-hour workweek, simply because his employees kept quitting.    Walking away from a job is the ultimate "strike" if you think about it.  And if enough people quit, eventually conditions have to change.

But a funny thing, the unions now take credit for this.   A bumper sticker seen recently said, "Enjoying your weekend?  Thank the Unions!" or some such nonsense.   The upshot was that "but for" the union movement, we'd all be working seven days a week, 12 hours a day.   Maybe there is a nugget of truth in that, but there is also the truth that people like Henry Ford brought in high wages and the 40-hour week, long before the unions were around.

The Wobblies are no more (although technically, their organization still exists).   They were more of a far-left neo-Communist group than a proper union, anyway.  They never succeeded, even as a union, as, well, they had too many pie-in-the-sky ideas.  That, and they kept splintering into different groups, arguing about power and philosophy.   Groups like that rarely succeed in the world, which is probably a good thing, anyway.

Work and pray, live on hay, There will be Pie in the Sky when you die - that's a lie!
Long-haired preachers come out every night 
Try to tell you what's wrong and what's right
But when asked how 'bout something to eat 
They will answer in voices so sweet

You will eat, bye and bye
In that glorious land above the sky 
Work and pray, live on hay 
You'll get pie in the sky when you die (That's a lie!)

And the Starvation Army, they play 
And they sing and they clap and they pray 
Till they get all your coin on the drum 
Then they tell you when you're on the bum 
Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out 
And they holler, they jump and they shout 
Give your money to Jesus, they say 
He will cure all diseases today 
If you fight hard for children and wife
Try to get something good in this life 
You're a sinner and bad man, they tell 
When you die you will sure go to hell. 
Workingmen of all countries, unite 
Side by side we for freedom will fight 
When the world and its wealth we have gained 
To the grafters we'll sing this refrain 
You will eat, bye and bye 
When you've learned how to cook and how to fry 
Chop some wood, 'twill do you good 
Then you'll eat in the sweet bye and bye (That's no lie!)