Joe Hill was born the normal way as Joseph Hillström October 7, 1879 in Sweden. Happy birthday Joe!
Joe Hill did not die in a normal way. He didn't live in a normal way either. Joe Hill organized for the IWW. Mostly he led strikes and sang songs that he composed to keep up the spirits of workers striking for Justice. All of this took place early in the twentieth century, just before World War One.
Joe Hill was accused of murder. The evidence against him consisted of a bullet wound received at approximately the same time as a robbery was committed in Salt Lake City. According to Hill, he was shot by a jealous husband. Joe would not name the woman for fear of exposing her to public ridicule. Joe was convicted for being wounded and not having an alibi. According to the Utah authorities the fact that Hill was an organizer for the IWW had nothing to do with the trial and conviction. Most progressives of the day including president Woodrow Wilson objected to the proceedings and the execution. Joe's last word was "fire" as he stood before the firing squad.
Joe did not wish to be buried. He was cremated and according to his will his ashes were mailed to every local in every state in the US and overseas, but not to Utah, as Joe didn't want to be caught dead in Utah. Joe's ashes were scattered to wind on May Day 1916. Perhaps it is Joe's ashes that Bob Dylan is referring to in Blowing in the Wind. Dylan lists Joe Hill as one his inspirations.
My will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don't need to fuss and moan
"Moss does not cling to a rolling stone."
My body? - Oh. - If I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again
This is my Last and final Will
Good Luck to All of you
Joe Hill used songs because he realized that no matter how good of a labor organizing pamphlet he wrote, it would be read only once if he was lucky. But if he wrote a song, with a little humor and a catchy tune then people would sing it many times and his ideas would live forever. Whenever you hear the phrase "Pie in the Sky" you are hearing from one of Joe Hill's greatest hits.
The Preacher and the Slave
Joe Hill 1911
(To the tune of In the Sweet Bye and Bye)
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 with 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
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
The phrase Pie in the Sky refers to labor's deferred reward. If you believe it is God's plan for the rich to get their rewards in this life and for the poor to get their rewards in the next world, Earth 2.0, then you believe in Pie in the Sky when you die. Justice 1.0 is the status quo, Justice 2.0 is pie in the sky. Jesus preached pie in the sky. In fact according to Jesus you are better off with pie in the sky than you are with justice in this world.
Luke 6 (NIV)
21Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh. ....
24But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
The Apostle Paul taught pie in the sky too.
5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. 9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
According to this passage God is the mediator of the master slave relationship. God is that master's master. If God is the master's master then why doesn't he say to his masters, let your slaves go? Obviously the slave has no expectation of a just reward in this world. The master has no intention of rewarding a slave with a just reward in this world. The slave's reward if any will be in Earth 2.0, not Earth 1.0. In the mean time we all can rest easy knowing that God has put all of the wealth in this world where it belongs. Those who have deserve and those who have not deserve not. Wealth is not a reward of labor in this world. Wealth and freedom is a reward of God's favor and plan, not the efforts of man. God knows who is slave and who is free and they all have their purpose. Justice will be done with pie in the sky.
If Paul meant to say that slavery is evil in this passage, then he missed a golden opportunity. Instead Paul implies that the justice lacking in this world will be made up in the next with pie in the sky. If it weren't for that pie Paul would simply be the ethical enabler of slave owners and those who exploit labor. The hope of future eternal justice justifies the deferral of temporal immediate justice. To many Paul and Jesus are the voice of God. Is it any wonder why so many churches in our culture and throughout history give and have given so much deference to wealth? Pie in the sky is the alibi for those who would deny justice to their workers now. Pie in the sky is one reason why so many are afraid to organize now, as it was in the days of Joe Hill. If the status quo is God's plan then those who try to change things here and now will forfeit their pie in the sky.
If the idea of pie in the sky was forced to appeal to reason in the same manner that all ideas should be before they become operative principles in labor policy, then we would have none of it and those who advocate pie in the sky would be laughed off the stage. But the privileged status given to religious ideas protects pie in the sky and its sanctified position. The words of scripture need not pass the muster of reason. They need only to appeal to authority.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
Johnathan Edwards 1741
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
If you listen to the Puritan Preachers and their modern prodigy you will find that they believed humans deserved nothing from this life but to die and go to hell. Anything else was grace, not justice. Contrast the likes of Johnathan Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Edwards to our founding fathers when they proclaimed that men had natural rights. Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Joe Hill were an anathema to the Church and crown not just for his religious views but their political views as well. According to Paine and Hill workers are entitled to justice in this world, no matter what awaits them in the next, presuming there is a next. But the presumption of the next world is the problem. Patience for God while we wait for Earth 2.0 and Justice 2.0 is simply patience for evil and injustice against workers.
There is no next world. There is no Earth 2.0 and no Justice 2.0, therefore if justice is to be done it must be done by us and it must be done now. If God existed, if he was able, and if he had intended to create a just world then he surly would have done so by now. If there is to be a just world then it must created by us mortals now, for apparently justice is of no concern to the Almighty.
I know there are many Christians and those of other faiths who advocate for social justice, but there are just as many who advocate against it. Frankly the scriptures side with those who intend to withhold justice until the here after, for according to the scriptures justice is promised in the next world, not this one.
The fight for justice for workers in this world will not be won until the fight against irrationality within religious communities is won. If you are a believer then you have an obligation to your fellow workers to advocate within your faith community for justice here and now.