Art and the working class

Labour Art (cropped) by Jeff Burgess. Click for full piece.

The portrayal of workers and labour in art and the media have far-reaching implications on how that work and experience is understood and remembered. Recording the working class experience in art acknowledges the work portrayed as important, and recognizes the experience of workers. This is a small sample of the art and film produced on labour.

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.


  • 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

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. 

Books about labour film

See also the textbooks and films reccomended by Professor John-Henry Harter: From Reel to Real: Using Film to teach Labour History

Visual Art

Isadore Posoff , 1937. Mining was a major indusrtry in Pennsylvania, where workers were among the first to organize.

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.

Jacob Burck, The Lord Provides, 1934, Lithograph. This is one of the items in this collection.

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.

Michael Siporin, 1937, Worker's Family, Woodcut. One of the items in this collection.

From the portfolio A Gift to Biro-Bidjan 

A collection of 1937 Woodcuts by American artists. A permanent exhibition of Oakton Community College, Ray Hartstein Campus, Skokie.

Diego Rivera, from Detroit Industry (1932)
Copyright © The Detroit Institute of Arts

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.