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Joe Glazer; Music Set Tone for Labor Movement

Joe Glazer performed at numerous rallies, marches and conventions and wrote songs including
Joe Glazer performed at numerous rallies, marches and conventions and wrote songs including "Automation" and "Too Old to Work." (Family Photo)

Another hymn identified with Mr. Glazer in the 1950s was the union version of "We Shall Overcome," derived from Charles Tindley's 1900 hymn, "I'll Overcome Some Day," which, by the 1960s, became the anthem of the U.S. civil rights movement.

Over the next seven decades, Mr. Glazer's singing and his songs would become staples of the labor repertoire. His compositions reflected labor issues of the '50s and '60s that went beyond union recognition and basic organizing.

"Automation" reflected worker fears of being supplanted by machines. "The Mill Was Made of Marble" was a commentary on the dreams of textile workers for a cleaner, safer mill.

"Too Old to Work" came out of the early and ultimately successful efforts by unions to secure pension benefits.

"You work in the factory all of your life," Mr. Glazer wrote in "Too Old to Work."

"Try to provide for your kids and your wife. When you get too old to produce anymore, they hand you your hat and they show you the door. Too old to work, too old to work, when you're too old to work and you're too young to die.

"Who will take care of you, how'll you get by when you're too old to work and you're too young to die?"

Mr. Glazer was among a generation of intellectuals attracted to the mid-20th-century industrial unionism exemplified by the Congress of Industrial Organizations as the most promising hope for social justice for working men and women in the United States. Like Mr. Glazer, many of these activists grew up in immigrant working-class families committed to socialism and unionism in a way that many other Americans regarded as radical and even dangerous.

"We didn't talk much about politics or trade unions," Mr. Glazer wrote of his upbringing in New York, where his father was a garment worker. "It didn't seem necessary. It was an act of faith that unions were a good thing for working men and women."

Mr. Glazer graduated from Brooklyn College, the first of his family to finish college. (His brother, Nathan Glazer, co-author of the classic book "The Lonely Crowd," is a renowned sociologist.) Joe Glazer began working towards an advanced degree in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where his wife, Mildred, was pursuing a degree in labor economics in the university's program of labor and industrial relations. Her assigned books, he recalled in a WETA retrospective, seemed exciting while his math texts seemed a bore, so he switched majors to labor economics.

He had met Mildred when both were counselors at a camp in Upstate New York. "I led a strike of counselors," he recalled in a recent interview. "They had us plucking chickens. I said, 'Hey, that's not part of the job. What kind of deal is this?' and led a walkout."

A lifelong liberal Democrat, Glazer ultimately branched out into political satire, with a collection of songs at the expense of various Republicans, from Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy through President Ronald Reagan ("Jellybean Blues").

After working for the Textile Workers and the United Rubber Workers, Mr. Glazer, in 1961, joined the Foreign Service staff of the USIA, then headed by Edward R. Murrow, and was sent to Mexico as labor information officer. He transferred to the State Department in Washington as a labor adviser in 1965.

Survivors include his wife, of Chevy Chase; three children, Emily Glazer of Silver Spring, Patti Glazer of Asheville, N.C., and Daniel Glazer of Northbrook, Ill.; and four grandchildren.


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