As far as I can tell, virtually nobody persistently sings at work. Especially not as in a semi-formal group effort such as a barbershop quartet or a call-and -response sea shanty.

I was taught in primary school that hard laborers in the olden days sang together to keep up moral. When and where did this begin? And when and why did it stop?

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    I could imagine that the common singing is a method to synchronize a lot of workers doing similar work (e.g. scullers). After the introduction of machines, the work must be synchronized with different individual operations in a production line. Then you don't need the similar rhythm. – knut Oct 22 '18 at 8:35
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    You were taught at school.... but did they, actually? Or is this a myth / romanticisation / generalization? – DevSolar Oct 22 '18 at 9:22
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    the invention of the radio may have something to do with it. – Jos Oct 22 '18 at 9:23
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    @MarkC.Wallace - Behold then the horror of the IBM 1937 Corporate Songbook. The link says they were still doing this into the 1960's, but I was told anecdotally by a former employee something like this was still in use in the 1970's. – T.E.D. Oct 22 '18 at 13:15
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    @DevSolar - Look up the history of the Sea Shanty. Yes, it was A Thing. At least for some tasks. – T.E.D. Oct 22 '18 at 13:22


Work songs are a method to regulate joint or several labour. In joint labour it allows all labourers to pull together. In both joint and several labour it allows the labourers to regulate their pace of labouring and thus their exertion and exploitation.

In contrast mechanisation is used by capitalists to smash existing labour regulations (Thompson, “Time…” Past & Present [futon: libcom.org]). This allows capital to regulate labour by the pace of the machine. Even when workers sing to attack machine labour, their songs are not as fast as the real machine:

Poverty poverty knock/ My loom is a saying all day

Versus a power loom’s cacophonous rapidity: https://youtu.be/-T2vrJ6haK0 at 1 minute plus

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