Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Take it easy, but take it: what union songs teach us about Western Sahara

I had a union summer. Between an attempt to read A People's History of the United States, Netflixing Roger & Me, and constantly listening to an anthology of labor songs I was convinced that unions have balanced against rapacious capitalists throughout American history, and will continue to do so, even if they're getting a bit rapacious themselves.

None of that can happen, though, if people aren't excited, organized, or skilled enough to work for their rights. That's why I think the Western Sahara community can glean some lessons from the U.S. labor movement, as depicted in songs from Smithsonian Folkway's anthology Classic Labor Songs.

  • "Joe Hill" performed by Paul Robeson--Paul Robeson would've been a more admirable if he hadn't covered up the Soviet Union's treatment of Jews. The real treat in this song is the man it's about, Joe Hill, a Swedish labor organizer and folk singer who was framed for murder and executed. Before he died, Hill sent a message to another International Worker of the World that only said "Don't any time mourning. Organize!" Ban on mourning aside, that's advice to take to heart for any popular struggle, especially one that's seen as many deaths as the Western Sahara.
  • "One Day More" performed by Elaine Purkey--"If the company holds out twenty years, we'll hold out one day more." The occupation of Western Sahara has gone longer than twenty years, but "one day more" is exactly the attitude Sahrawis should have as Morocco tries to wear down their commitment with an armory of methods, from getting Cape Verde to withdraw its recognition from SADR to hiring CORCAS stooges.
  • "Talking Union" performed by the Almanac Singers--The most important lyrics in this song come at the end: "If you don't let red baiting break you up, and if you don't let stool pigeons break you up, and if you don't let vigilantes break you up, and if you don't let race hatred break you up, you'll win!" You can keep red baiting and replace the rest with CORCAS members, gangs of Moroccan settlers, and tribal enmities, respectively. The result is perfect advice for Sahrawis in Western Sahara or in Tindouf waiting for a resolution.
At the end of "Talking Union" the singer says, "What I mean is take it easy, but take it!" Let's keep that attitude of fun-but-dead-serious revolution.


  1. Laroussi1:36 PM

    Another way of gaining strength is surprisingly enough by reading Moroccan media reports. They can be simply hilarious.

    In slightly more than a weeks time Morocco will hold its quasi-elections (king M VI of course decides in the end) to the parliament, and according to the newspaper "Le Matin du Sahara et du Maghreb" the Moroccan political parties are now campaigning from "Tangers à Lagouira".

    Oh, I would give a lot to see the party campaigns in Lagouira. I wonder if the party campaigners will mingle with the Mauritanian soldiers on guard down there. Maybe they will all sing "Assahara ma tinbaa" while having tea together!

    I do hope they will show something from these rallies on Moroccan television... =D

  2. Anonymous2:37 PM

    In Western Sahara is like in the world of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four,
    The Party which controls Oceania ( OCCUPIED WESTERN SAHARA) is split into two halves: the Inner Party (CORCAS ) and the Outer Party ( MOROCCAN AUTHORITY ). The Inner Party regulates Ingsoc.( MARROY)
    The Inner Party represents the aristocratic political class (CORCAS and their associates) in Oceania (OCCUPIED WESTERN SAHARA) , and has its membership restricted to 0.000014 million individuals (about 0.0014% of the population). Inner Party members enjoy a quality of life that is much better than that of the proles ( REAL SAHARAWIS) or Outer Party members ( MOROCCAN SETTLERS) . For example,
    the telescreens (two-way televisions used for propaganda and surveillance purposes LAAYOUNE TV AND 2M CHANNEL) in their homes can ( NOT) be turned off. They also have access to spacious living quarters, personal servants, convenient transportation, and relatively pleasant food and drink (in contrast to the poor quality Victory Gin and Victory Cigarettes, which were not manufactured properly, of the outer Party). Inner Party members are always identified by their black coveralls ( NOT DARAAA). Members are selected at a young age (OLD AGE – SHEIKS) according to a battery of tests ( LOYALITY TO….), and (not ) family heritage, as any loyalty to anything other than Ingsoc ) (MARROY) and Big Brother ( WE KNOW HIM …) , including the family, is strongly discouraged. Race is also of (no) importance in selecting members.
    In the novel( REALITY) , O'Brien ( OULD RACHID / LAYOUNE GOVERNOR) is the only character met who is a member of the Inner Party.
    In Western Sahara now
    War is peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is strength
    ("all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"

    All Saharawis in WS have to keep attention because “ big brother is watching you”


  3. Clever analogy, Desertman. It freakishly matches up. Let's hope our Sahrawi Winstons don't succumb.

    Morocco sure is fond of saying it controls Lagouira, isn't it? Why is Mauritania down there? Someone said they were keeping it in trust until Polisario can control it, but why would Morocco tolerate Mauritanian troops on territory it's claimed?

  4. I think Mauritania simply decided to stay put in 1978, when they made peace with Polisario, and Morocco didn't bother to contest it.

    At that time, official Morocco had been insisting for years that the southern half of Western Sahara is Mauritanian, so it would have looked sort of odd if the army had attacked Mauritanian troops in what Hassan had said was Mauritanian territory. Also, I guess they didn't want a (second) war over what's essentially a bunch of mud huts, landmines and sand dunes. (Map here.)

    For Mauritania's part, they have a real city (Nouadhibou) right next door, so there was a definite interest in keeping control over the surroundings. Also, there were French troops stationed there during the war, aiding in the fight against Polisario, and unofficially acting as a deterrent against any Moroccan attempts to snatch a chunk of Mauritania. (Hassan had been claiming the entire country up until 1969/70.) AFAIK, they remained in place until 1979/80 or so, and by that time, it was a bit late for Morocco to come making demands, since the troop pullback had been completed in 1978.

    Finally, let's not forget that the Moroccan wall wasn't built yet when Mauritania pulled back. Not until the mid/late 80s was Morocco back in control over the southernmost part of Western Sahara, and then Mauritania had been in Lagouira for 10 years.

  5. Laroussi8:31 AM

    You should remember that in the peace treaty between Mauritania and Polisario from 1979, Mauritania renounced of all claims on Western Sahara and recognized the republic of Western Sahara - SADR.

    That is why Saharawis from the camps in Algeria can travel freely to Mauritania without need of passports or visas, contrary to their families under Moroccan rule.

    In the deal Mauritania allegedly also promised to guard the old Spanish part of the peninsula of Nouadhibou for the Saharawis, for the day when Western Sahara is liberated.

    I haven't seen this later part in writing myself so you might want to check that with you local Polisario office.

    The map Alle linked to is fairly correct but on official Mauritanian maps you will see the border line clearly marked with the Atlantic side as part of Western Sahara. Hence, the Mauritanian flag is on the wrong side of the border.

    The German map also puts the Mauritanian border control on the Saharawi side, something I doubt is correct. But, you never know.

    In any case the old route to Nouadhibou no longer exists. You can see traces of it but it is mainly covered with sand.

    In La Güera you will only find ruins and a handful of Mauritanian soldiers on post.

    But Will, do contact your local Polisario office and give us a good briefing of their explanation to why there are Mauritanians down in La Güera and why the Mauritanian border control is in fact in Western Sahara (at least according to a German map from 2001). :-)

  6. Laroussi8:48 AM

    Ps. On this map you will see that the border post now is closer to the real border between Mauritania and Western Sahara. Where is says "Mauretanische Grenzkontrolle".

    For some reason the Germans who made the map, Michael and Hans Peter Hauschild, have put Moroccan flags in Western Sahara. Not very nice of them.

    Maybe someone would like to tell the German honorary consul in Mauritania (stationed in Düsseldorf?) about this "minor" slip.

    For some reason, I have seen many maps from especially German sites where Western Sahara has been presented as part of Morocco. Something to do with their own history of "Anschuss"? ;-)

  7. Anonymous9:50 AM

    If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

  8. Anonymous5:38 PM

    If you think that you just were clever, think again.

  9. If I'd known we were being obtuse I would've brought my tautologies.

  10. Anonymous1:07 AM

    something smells fishy in here!
    it stink really bad , oh i know its ARSO flowing about again.

    as they say
    There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.

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