At the time, my only experience of a hammer was a small wooden one I used for knocking cylindrical painted wooden pegs through a variety of different sized holes while watching Champion the Wonder Horse, so I just believed it to be a jolly ditty. It wasn't until much later that I discovered its political intent.
When Seeger and Hays wrote the song, it was a bit of anthemic support for the emerging progressive movement, which was focused heavily on labor rights, among other things. The lyrics allude to the labor movement, taking symbols from the work place and turning them into calls for action toward equality.I was reminded of the tune again this week while having more work done at Puddlecote Towers. The garden was in urgent need of a wholescale gutting, so Mrs P suggested throwing some cash the way of her 22 year old cousin. He works like a Trojan and for the past couple of days has been hacking away in the undergrowth, pulling up stubborn roots and fighting long undisturbed spiders the size of small rats, filling a six yard skip in the process.
He asked to stow his tools in our garage for the first night, and that's how we got talking about his many run-ins with public transport. You see, he doesn't drive which causes problems when getting to jobs with his tools.
I must firstly point out that we're not talking a shaven-headed chav complete with disdainful sneer here, the guy is well spoken and incredibly polite (even to the point of asking permission to use the loo at the house of a family member). However, bus drivers routinely refuse to let him board and he has had his tools 'confiscated' many a time when travelling on trains, despite carrying them in a professional canvas carrier, the last time being when leaving the train on his way back home. They were very nice about it, he said, and confessed to being quite aware that he was a builder with a perfectly valid reason for carrying them but, you know, 'rules is rules and it's more than our job's worth' yadda yadda.
So he waited 20 minutes until the police turned up, officially confiscated them, before walking with him back to the station, where he was asked to sign a form to 'claim' his bag before finally walking home.
Seeing as it is expected that self-employed working men arrive at the job with their own tools, the message here seems to be that they must do so in their own vehicle and not on public transport. In fact, better make sure that vehicle is quite obviously a working one (white van, for example) in case the police get the wrong end of the stick and land the driver with a criminal record.
Quite silly considering that, when working in London especially, it is far easier (and less costly) to get there on a train, and that for many labourers on daily rates, the expense of a van is either out of the question - just the road tax is equivalent to three days' pay - or cuts down on their income.
All of which makes efforts, lyricised in the song, to "hammer .. all over this land" rather difficult. Not very progressive, is it? And certainly unsympathetic to practicalities faced by many a working class labourer.
And when one considers that such control freakery has materialised under an administration which claimed to be progressive; to be acting in the interests of the working man and his family; and with a keen eye on equality, it's all rather amusing.
Perhaps the song should be updated to "If I had a van, fully taxed and insured, run on LPG if possible, liveried so the police know I'm not a terrorist, smokefree, parked in a marked bay and, when moving, driven within the speed limit, and at all times with both hands on the wheel ... I could then hammer all over this land".
Though, as a protest song, it's not quite as catchy, is it?