… here’s a brand new interview with Union Thugs, taken from Industrial Worker …
DPM: What should readers know about you and your band? Who are you? When/Where are you performing and what are the best ways to keep up with your recordings and performances?
Union Thugs: The band started out in 2017 following discussions around forming a union band with Montréal General Membership Branch members. Almost all six of us had experience with previous bands but it never been nothing close to a career—with the Union Thugs we always considered ourselves to be workers first and foremost, who just happen to play music on the side. So yeah, we pretty much all take part in the Montréal punk scene in one way or another, since the early 2000s.
But with the Union Thugs project, we wanted to bring back the old tradition of a syndicalist music act that would speak to laborers everywhere. We kinda grew tired of singing revolutionary punk songs to an already convinced revolutionary punk crowd. We wanted to bring what we had to say about the system and how it can be changed a step further. It’s Joe Hill who said: “A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.” And we think that does make a lot of sense!
So after almost seven years and close to 200 shows either in bars, squats, demos or picket lines all across Quebec and Ontario provinces, we’re actually about to embark on our first ever European tour that’s going to take place from the 17th of August until the 11th of September. Éric Sédition, our singer and main booker, has prepared 21 dates for us that will lead us from Germany to France with a few nights in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy and more importantly will connect us with the members and organizers of the German IWW (GLAMROC), the Free Workers’ Union (FAU) and the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) amongst other things!
For the longest time we’ve been touring around the provinces of Quebec and Ontario which (don’t get us wrong here!) we really enjoyed doing all those years. Just in the last few months this gave us the opportunity to play with bands such as Brigada Flores Magon, les Ramoneurs de Menhirs and the Dreadnoughts, but the time has come to visit the old countries and meet with workers from around the world!
The best way to stay up to date with our whereabouts would be to subscribe to our Facebook or Instagram accounts. In the U.S. all our music is available through PM Press and although there’s nothing like a real show, you can also catch us on all the major streaming platforms and if you feel like supporting us, we also have a Patreon page; that way you can help us replace broken strings and put gas in the car!
DPM: Who are the people in your community making it happen? Who/What inspires you?
UT: Well the most inspiring thing for us is all these workers that resist and fight back against the abuse of the bosses. We’ve taken up a habit of stopping by to visit striking workers, chatting with them, playing a few songs. It’s always a very rich moment of exchange and we learn a lot.
Another thing that’s inspiring would be the movement for housing rights in Montréal right now. People are organizing against their landlords raising their rent and evicting them in a lot of traditionally working-class neighborhoods. People are fed up with being displaced and it shows.
One such fight was brilliantly led by the tenants of the Mont-Carmel retirement home who fought against an eviction notice to 200 tenants in 2023. There is also the resurgence in the fight for paid internships for students which is mostly led by women in care-centered programs.
And how can we forget about our very own Union, the Montréal branch of the IWW, which survived the pandemic and in addition to a few organizing campaigns always going on under the radar, just recently dumped a pick-up truck full of manure on the steps of Quebec’s Employers Council and is currently fighting a 20K wage theft campaign against a café owner. That list is obviously not everything that’s going on this year, that is just from the top of our heads!
DPM: A recent split release, including your contributions “J’avance” and a Woody Guthrie cover, “All You Fascists,” is a collaboration with Brooklyn-based Out of System (OOST). What inspired your contributions to the release and what kinds of solidarity and creative exchange are happening between Brooklyn and Montréal?
UT: Since the beginning of the band, we’ve mostly been doing covers of old union folk songs with a pinch of punk-rock or classic punk tunes that we folked on the way. This split recording was the first to feature an original song alongside a Woody Guthrie classic we’ve been performing since day one.
OOST and the Union Thugs had shared the stage a few times before this collaboration and Wawa (our now ex-drummer) and Derek (our current drummer) were friends with them before joining the band. OOST were also an obvious choice for us because of our shared views on politics and the duo is just great and really fun to be around!
Brooklyn and Montréal also have their share of similarities such as a strong working-class history in the heart of big city as well as rampant gentrification problems. It just really made sense for us to be featured on the same release as them.
Because of our cultural love for folk music and our political affiliation with the IWW, we have always felt very close with the American working class, but due to the particularly authoritarian nature of the U.S. border and some problem with the justice on our side, we haven’t succeeded yet in crossing the border, but we feel that this collaboration with OOST and PM Press, who helped us with the release, strengthen that link even if physically meeting is still pretty hard.
DPM: How are art and music related to worker struggle in your experience?
UT: Workers have a longstanding tradition of sharing their struggles and daily lives through art and music. For us, our shows are all about saying ‘’You are not alone to live like this! Others who are in your situation succeed in changing things and if you look around you just right now, you will realize that everyone wants to change things. You can do it too!’’
Music specifically is a great and accessible way to reach people and to open discussions about what actions can be taken to improve our living conditions. It can also be a means to support workers’ struggle.
For example, a picket line can be pretty boring if nothing is going on. They are usually held on roads where there is not much visibility; hours are long; it’s often really hot or really freezing. In that case, having a band visit can be really invigorating for the workers on those picket lines. In our experience, it really felt like people were happy to have this little change of pace in the day. It also felt like we were able to communicate our solidarity to them and that it was appreciated.
DPM: From your first release in 2018, Union Thugs’ songs have been consistently worker-centered and multilingual. In your wildest fantasy, how are your recordings being used?
UT: Being invited to play when workers are on strike and being able to go on a 21-date European tour is already beyond our wildest dream, but if we dare to dream even further, it would also be neat someday to play in demonstrations outside of Montréal and Quebec and (why not?) become the soundtrack of some revolutionary worker-led movement! But hey, if we can just happen to be in someone’s playlist at work and spark the idea of organizing their workplace, that would make the whole trip completely worth it!
DPM: How do you balance art, family, and work?
UT: That’s pretty chaotic! From the start, as any organizer will tell you, keeping six persons on a tight schedule for an extended period of time is a challenge in itself. It’s a shame that there are only 24 hours in a day because we are pretty hyperactive both as a band and as individuals!
We usually play at least 20 shows a year, sometimes over 30. Some of us are pretty active in the IWW, others run a label, an underground venue and some have other bands. At work we are all in fairly different industries. In the band we’ve got a building painter who does seasonal work in the cinema industry, a high school teacher, a day laborer, a harm reduction worker, a journalist and bartender and to add to that puzzle our singer, Eric, just had his first child a few months back. But we always kind of make it work!
However, playing music, dreaming of a working class revolution, meeting with workers who are fighting the good fight and helping the labor movement to grow are things that we wouldn’t exchange for nothing in the world. For the last 10 to 20 years, we all have been actively militant against the Capitalist system and, to be honest, we wouldn’t even know what else to do.
Fellow workers Noel, Sansan & Stakh for the Union Thugs