10 Labour Rights Murals

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May 1, 2018

Here at Widewalls, we started celebrating 1st of May, International Workers’ Day or Labour Day, with a look at 10 striking propaganda posters from the former Soviet Union. In the article, 10 Propaganda Posters from Soviet Union for International Workers’ Day, we discovered a selection of heroic posters that celebrated the 1st May with typical iconic Soviet Union style artwork.

Now, we turn our attention to a selection of 10 murals in support of labour rights, as we further celebrate the proletariat on International Workers’ Day.

Labour Day (or Labor day in the United States), is an annual holiday celebrated on 1st of May, though for some, as with the United States, they fall on different dates which have some meaning with the labour movement in that country. Labour Day or International Workers’ Day has its roots in the labour movement, particularly in their efforts with the eight hour movement, aimed at getting an eight hour working day with eight hours for rest and eight hours for recreation.

Labour rights murals and general murals celebrating the workers of the world are commonplace, uniting people in opposition to the exploitation of workers and celebrating their magnificent achievements.

Join us in celebrating the workers of the world on 1st May and International Workers’ Day with 10 labour rights murals from around the world.

Mike Alewitz - The City at the Crossroads of History Mural

To begin our look at labour rights murals, we start with The City at the Crossroads of History mural by Mike Alewitz.

This Unites States mural painter has become well-known for his artworks that grace many labour unions, community centres and public buildings around the world. However, this particular mural has caused controversy and not for the first time in the artistic career of Mike Alewitz.

The mural was commissioned by The Puffin Foundation in 2011, with a proposal that it would be put in the Museum of the City of New York. Alewitz completed the mural in 2014, but the Museum of the City of New York has refused to exhibit the mural, claiming that Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King should not be the central characters.

Mike Alewitz stated the museum objected to his “unabashed, partisan defense of the labour movement and a radical approach that the one percent, who are the donors to the museum, feel very uncomfortable about. I am not surprised that [the director] as the representative of them—because that’s who funds and runs these institutions—would object to the mural.”

Image via ncph.org, Photo credit: Mike Alewitz

Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry Murals

While not strictly labour rights murals, the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera have gained notoriety for its depictions of workers in Detroit.

The murals, painted during 1932 and 1933, are based on workers at the Ford Motor Company, with many of the 27 panels revealing the contrast between workers and management. The Murals were started during the Great Depression, when one in four labourers in Detroit were unemployed and the Ford Motor Company were themselves having problems political and social unrest among their workers, leading to strikes and eventually five deaths.

It is thought that Diego Rivera was inspired by the protests during the painting of the Detroit Industry murals.

Overview of Detroit Industry, North Wall, 1932-33, fresco by Diego Rivera. Detroit Institute of Arts, via Wikipedia; Photos by Rachele Huennekens.

Coit Tower Murals

Coit Tower is located in San Francisco, built in 1933 and otherwise known as the Lillian Coit Memorial Tower. The Art deco-style tower, standing at 64 meters in height, contains fresco murals completed by 27 separate artists and assistants.

The muralists were mainly chosen from the California School of Fine Arts who demonstrated leftist and Marxist political ideas in their work along with racial equality. Some of the murals depict workers of all races as equals while the capitalist rulers enjoy the benefits of their hard work, while other feature striking miners and starving prospectors.

The murals were radical at the time with poverty, unemployment, anger and inequality higher than ever before, which makes the Coit Tower murals a worthy addition to our labour rights murals.

Coil Tower Mural: Factory, by Joe Crawford.

Maine Labour History Mural

Next up in our labour rights murals, is another controversial mural which was removed from public view, sparking outrage. The Maine Labour History mural was created by artist Judy Taylor in 2008 and was fixed to the wall of the Labour Department building in Maine.

The mural depicted images from labour history in Maine, including child labourers, female shipbuilder during World War II and a famous strike from 1937. In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage ordered the removal of the mural, claiming it bowed to organised labour and overlooked entrepreneurs, sparking outrage from the public.

Images via newengland.com.

Winold Reiss - Cincinnati Union Terminal

The wonderful murals by German artist Winold Reiss are a fine addition to labour rights murals, originally created for the Cincinnati Union Terminal.

The murals depicted local industries and was part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) murals, sometimes known as "Work Pays America", set up to provide economic relief during the Great Depression.

The project aimed to combine the creativity of the art scene with the values of the America people and to provide employment for artists who were also on relief at the time.

Images via randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com

Manchester's Liverpool Road Station Mural

International Workers’ Day is the perfect time to remember those that went before us in creating the infrastructures we have around us today. Where would be without those labourers who built our railways, roads and industrial centres.

Manchester, in the UK, was once a heavy industrialised area like many of the major cities in the UK, before falling into decline. The next in our series of labour rights murals pays tribute to the first passenger railway line which ran from Manchester to Liverpool and the workforce who created it.

The mural is at Manchester’s Liverpool Road Station next to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Image via mancunianwave.blogspot.com

Kazakhstan – Soviet Murals

These two murals in Kazakhstan take us back to some good Soviet style propaganda artworks in our quest for labour rights murals.

The first features three fine solid figures in typical Soviet style, proud and demonstrating the unity of the working class. It is a mosaic mural and can be found on the House of Unions in Karaganda, the capital of Karagandy Province.

The second mural can be found on the House of Culture in Karkaralinsk and is dedicated to the harmony of peoples and science.

Apparently the murals are in a state of decay as they are not protected, but still they remain a beautiful example of Soviet style artworks dedicated to the workers.

Images via Esquire.

Gerhard Bondzin - The Path of the Red Banner

Another strong Soviet style work for labour rights murals, this one being by German painter and graphic artist Gerhard Bondzin.

This amazing mural was created by the artist in 1969 and can found in Dresden on the wall of the Palace of Culture, a theatre built by the socialist government.

The mural features the state seal of the GDR and a red star, along with many common socialist themes such as teachers, the might of the working class, peasants and the proletariat with sickles and hammers to symbolise strength and unity.

Image via 03varvara.wordpress.com

Bratislava – Train Station Mural

This magnificent mural in Bratislava train station, Slovakia, is a fine example of communist era labour rights murals. The often ignored mural has all the classic imagery one would expect from communist art, workers rising up against capitalists in their business suits, while the workers carry their banner and tools proudly.

It also features a worker being freed from the chains of capitalism to join the united crowd of workers and a group of women, made up of different nationalities, indicating that socialism will unite the world.

The large Socialist Realist fresco in Bratislava Railway Station painted in 1960 by František Gajdoš. Author Rob Hurson.

Mike Alewitz – Teamster Power Mural

We started our look at labour rights murals with a controversial mural by Mike Alewitz and to finish here is another fine example of his mural work in support of labour rights.

This was painted in Chicago during 1998 to celebrate the Teamster strike against UPS and features images of Lucy Parsons and Albert Parsons, who were 19th century labour activists in Chicago.

The massive mural also includes protestors advocating workers’ rights, including the eight hours movement theme. It also includes this fine quote from August Spies: "If you think that by hanging us, you can stamp out the labour movement... from which the downtrodden millions who toil in want and misery expect salvation, then hang us."

Images via Mad About The Mural