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Guitars and Bagpipes: Tom Morello's Justice Tour Links Rockers and Unions for a Labor Day Fightback

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When the members of Fire Fighters Local 311 learned Tom Morello was returning to Madison, Wisconsin, for a Labor Day show, the union men and women asked if they could welcome the veteran Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist to the city's historic Barrymore Theatre with the pomp and circumstance accorded a returning champion.

Bagpipes and razor's-edge rock 'n' roll?

Madison firefighters and an amplified Woody Guthrie who is featured on the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine?

Absolutely. It's right in tune with the struggle that Wisconsinites have engaged in for the past seven months.

This is the new solidarity, crossing lines of class, politics, ideology and musical genre. And Morello has understood from the day, last February, when he rallied the tens of thousands of protesters outside the state Capitol in Madison. "I've played hundreds and hundreds of demonstrations but I've never been in the middle of anything like this," Morello told me the other day, when we talked about his planned return to Madison for the Labor Day show at the Barrymore Theatre with McIlrath, Kramer and other musicians as part of a Justice Tour that will go on to the battleground states of Ohio and Michigan. "The people of Wisconsin are forming one of the last lines of defense against complete corporate control. There's a vicious class war going on, but only one side was fighting it -- the billionaires and the politicians they prop up. There wasn't a fightback, at least not a sufficient fightback, until Wisconsin."

Back in February and March, the Local 311 bagpipers were on the front line as they led marches on the Capitol in defense of labor rights and local democracy -- and against the corporate cronyism of Governor Scott Walker. For some of the largest protests, they were joined by pipers from across the state who played the ancient instrument of popular insurrection.

Morello's instrument is different. He plays the guitar, so brilliantly that, with Rage Against the Machine, he won two Grammy Awards and was nominated for five more. He's been to the top of the Billboard charts with Rage and Audioslave.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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