Eric Fleming is a busy Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) representative. When not organising meetings and ballots he is also a well known singer of songs connected with the labour movement and the working class.
Fleming sings to audiences of all political parties and persuasions, not just to those from the hard left. He has sung for Conradh na Gaeilge, tenants associations, the Labour Party, trade union conferences and increasingly for strikes.
He is keen to point out that labour songs are not just about strikes, but can deal with a whole range of issues. While the renaissance of political singing started with the Swedish labour activist and songwriter Joe Hill in the early twentieth century, the tradition is alive and well in modern groups such as UB40 and singers like Peter Gabriel.
People who would identify political songs in the forties, would probably see somebody with a beard and with a cap and a banjo. You’re as likely now to see that guy holding a Telecaster guitar in a rock group and spitting it out.
The American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie’s song ‘Union Maid’, written from a female point of view, is one of the most popular songs in Fleming’s repertoire. He has been asked to sing it by striking Dunnes Stores workers and for women’s groups. Many women believe he has written it specifically for them.
It’s 40 years old, and yet the song has as much relevance today as it had the day it was written and probably will be going round for the next 40 years.
An ‘Exhibit A’ report broadcast on 27 January 1986.