Art & the Working Class

Online Labour Art Archives

Workers Arts and Heritage Centre
The mandate of the WAHC is to preserve and promote the culture and history of working people, particularly from a Canadian perspective.  The website features links to a growing number of exhibits, collections and resources.

Labour Arts
This archive of American labour art can be browsed by type of art (poster, photography, cartoons, songs, etc.) as well as by topic, theme and time period.  Each piece is accompanied by a brief description as well as related links.


Tom Zaniello. (1996) Working stiffs, union maids, reds, and riffraff : an organized guide to films about labour.

 Ithaca, N.Y. : ILR Press/Cornell University Press.

Available at the Belzberg Library at the Harbour Centre Campus of SFU.

El Contrato (The Contract)
This documentary from Min Sook Lee (Tiger Spirit) follows a poverty-stricken father from Central Mexico, along with several of his countrymen, as they make their annual migration to southern Ontario to pick tomatoes. For 8 months a year, the town's population absorbs 4,000 migrant workers, who toil under conditions, and for wages, that no local would accept. Yet despite a fear of repercussions, the workers voice their desire for dignity and respect. A National Film Board documentary.

Plunder: The Crime of our Time 
Directed by Danny Schecter, USA, 2010, 100 minutes
Watch the trailer

Plunder: The Crime of Our Time explores how the financial crisis was built on a foundation of criminal activity, uncovering the connection between the collapse of the housing market and the economic catastrophe that followed. It argues that the wrong doing committed by a few individuals distracts from the real story, implicating the institutions that financed and profited from fraudulent sub prime lending. These firms recklessly put trillions of dollars and the world economy at risk

Visual Art

Heavy Metal Madness: The Art of Labour Day, or is it Leisure Day?

Labour movements have often been an inspiration for artists, who are typically sympathetic to workers and their struggles. In this installment, Gene Gable looks at the graphics of the American labour movement and explores why the country celebrates Labour Day with barbecues and trips to the mall.

Life of the People:  The Labour Movement in Prints and Drawings
This online gallery provides a look at American working history through works of art.  Each piece is accompanied by a brief description and background information.

A Gift to Biro-Bidjan: Chicago, 1937 
From Despair to New Hope

A permanent exhibition of Oakton Community College, Ray Hartstein Campus, Skokie

A Depression Art Gallery

A large collection of Depression-era artwork from artists such as Diego Rivera, Robert Minor, Edward Hopper, Mable Dwight, and Hugo Gellert. 


Union Song:

For over two centuries working people across the world have built trade unions. This site documents the songs and poems that they made in the process, union songs. It includes songs and poems that are being written today, as the process of union building continues all around the world.

Trade Union Songs playlist on YouTube: Utah Phillips - There is Power In The Union; Solidarity Forever (Pete Seeger) ;Dropkick Murphys ~ Workers Song and many more...

Using Songs to Teach Labour History:  American Labor Studies Center
This resource looks at using songs to learn about labour history, workers’ rights, and unions.  The focus is primarily on American labour history, but here are insights into broader issues of unionism and labour.

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?": Its Impact on America and American Musicians 
By: Gary Davis
From Bing Crosby to Tom Waits

As I have said on so many occasions I love music. I play several instruments and have attempted to sing at various times. I have studied the history and music appreciation and it does not matter what part of music I deal with I love it just a little more every day. (More...)

Bella ciao - Gómez Naharro 
Bella Ciao is an Italian partisan song of World War II. It was sung by the left-wing anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy, a movement by anarchists, communists, socialists and other militant anti-fascist partisans. The author of the lyrics is unknown, and the music seems to come from an earlier folk song sung by riceweeders in the Po Valley.

Paul Robeson, "Joe Hill" - Robeson singing the famous labour ballad with photo overlay.

Street Dogs ~ There is Power in a Union - There is Power in a Union by the Street Dogs.
From the album, Fading American Dream.

Billy Bragg - Which Side Are You On? - Remember the Miners Strike 1984-1985


Injured Workers:  Telling Our Stories
This resource tells the personal stories of injured workers through a variety of media, including poetry, video and photo exhibits. 

Graphic History Collective

We write and draw comics about social justice histories.

The members of the Graphic History Collective came together specifically to produce a historical account of May Day in Canada in the form of a comic book through funding from the “Working Histories” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Research Knowledge Cluster. The finished book, May Day: A Graphic History of Protest in Canada, is now in its 3rd edition.


Books for Young Readers - A Labour Bibliography

Labour in the Movies: A Selected Bibliography 

Rolf Knight, "Traces of Magma"
An annotated bibliography of left literature, Vancouver: Draegerman, 1983. 
This book is a bibliography of "left wing novels (dealing) with the lives of working people during the 20th century. It includes some collections of poetry, drama and stories as well as (some) non-fictional material such as oral history..." "The selection entails a broad and heterogeneous range of concerns, styles and viewpoints. These novels do not typically embody the pat ideologies against which the reader may have been warned. In all their variety, these works are voices of the party of humanity."