‘Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon is regarded by many one of the most prolific protest songs of its generation in large part to the way that writer could express his ideas through simple lyrics and song writing to people from all classes. This paper will examine the goals, perspective and struggles of workers communicated through the song ‘Working Class Hero’. It will examine how the ‘worker’, ‘owner/boss’ or workplace environment is portrayed within the song. Furthermore it hopes to clarify how employment-related activities are portrayed in the song. It will mention the geographical and historical context in which the song takes place. It will also reveal the relevance of the song to contemporary labour relations.
Some people believe that the ‘worker’, ‘owner/boss’ or workplace environment may be seen as detrimental to the human spirit from birth because parents are constantly at work and unable to spend the time they require with their children. Lennon (1970) communicates this in the lyrics “As soon as you're born they make you feel small by giving you no time instead of it all”
As a result of work that often creates a difficult life for families and people trying to aspire higher in the workplace the resulting problems are revealed in the second and third paragraph of the song. It reveals lyrics that depict problems at school, violence and then the expectation of a career in an environment of hostility and fear. Lennon (1970) sings
“They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules”
“When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career” Employment related activities, acquiring a career and aspiring higher may result in disappointment and people getting hurt along the way. This is particularly relevant in the lines. “There's room at the top they're telling you still but first you must learn how to smile as you kill If you want to be like the folks on the hill” (Lennon, 1970).
John Lennon presents historical and geographical clues as well from his lyrics. The words about the ‘folks on the hill’ and ‘But first you must learn to smile as you kill’ may make reference to the social and political changes that resulted because of the government’s decision to go to the Vietnam War and various other conflicts. ‘And you think you’re so clever and classless and free’ may be a reference to the political changes in the 60’s and 70’s that really did not change the class structure as many expected. This can be heard in the lyrics ‘But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see’.
One must ask if being a ‘working class hero’ has changed in contemporary labour relations. The workplace and the activities conducted in the workplace are still often detrimental to normal working class people. Low wages, dangerous work, discrimination, layoffs, bribery, corruption and unethical work that affects other humans is still creating difficult circumstances for people doing work that many people in powerful positions will not do. This affects family life and creates social problems all throughout the world.
Furthermore the expectation ‘to get a career’ has not changed and the pressure to aspire is enormous due to high costs of education and difficult living conditions for many working class people and nothing has changed from the ‘folks on the hill’ or the government that is still telling us there is ‘room at the top’ or jobs and opportunities when in fact they are repeating the same mistakes from the 60’s and 70’s of setting the bad example of work that is detrimental. Modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be seen as