Lyrics originally by Joe Hill. Joe Hill was a Swedish labor activist associated with the Wobblies (I.W.W). He wrote quite a few songs for the labor movement. He was eventually framed for murder in Utah and executed in 1915, even though President Wilson intervened twice to try to prevent the execution. I have heard it said before that Bob Dylan wanted to be Woody Guthrie and Woody Guthrie wanted to be Joe Hill.