O’Brien, who performs under the name OB in the Sudbury, Ontario rap-rock group Kill The Autocrat, is a third generation mine-worker in his hometown and has inadvertently become a spokesperson for union rights everywhere.
In June 2010, Kill The Autocrat’s first single One Day Longer was released onto the internet. Written by OB during a year-long strike at the Vale Inco Mine where he works in Sudbury, the track became the North American anthem for the United Steelworkers Union of America. Before long, the band was overwhelmed with offers to perform the track at union rallies throughout the world. One of the biggest rallies he performed at was in Madison, Wisconsin where he performed the track for an astounding 80,000 striking workers at the biggest rally that city has seen since the Vietnam War.
Kill The Autocrat recently released their full-length debut effort, A New World Disorder. The MusicNerd Chronicles recently spoke with OB who checked in from Minnesota where he was performing for a gathering of 800 union leaders from across North America.
It is not typical for young folks to become so involved in union activities. How did you get involved?
OB: I got involved with the union as soon as I was hired to work at the mine. I became a union steward at work and had the opportunity to take a number of course. One of those courses I took was about building power and taking what I learned from the course, I implemented some of those strategies at protests and demonstrations.
Was marrying your beliefs with music something that organically came about?
OB: I have rapped since I was 15 years old and have no idea how many times I got made fun of for doing so (laughs). It ended up being a completely natural thing for me to do.
It is not typical for someone so young to be so involved with unions. Are you hoping to dispel some myths with your involvement?
OB: While union numbers in Canada are good, they are down drastically in the United States. And as the numbers decline, the movement think it is no longer necessary to be involved in something that their parents and grandparents started. I think people have lost track of all that unions have done for all of us, not just those involved with them. For a long time though, there was a mentality that the older folks weren’t letting young people become involved with the union, that they wanted to keep things the way they were and so young people stayed away. But the world has changed so much in the past 10 years, we need to bring the importance of unions back to the forefront.