The Labor Monument:Philadelphia’s Tribute of the American Worker was formally dedicated in Elmwood Park, 71st Street and Buist Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, on Friday, October 1, 2010.
A number of elected officials and union activists attended the event, including State Senators Tina Tartaglione and Vincent Hughes.
The monument is a circle of seven bronze tables, designed like old union buttons by the artist John Kindness, from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The bronze tables honored:
Eugene V. Debs, organizer for the American Railway Union and longtime activist for social justice;
Child Labor, with the quote by William D. Haywood: “The worst thief is he who steals the playtime of children.”;
The Industrial workers of the World (IWW), organized in 1905, who left a legacy of songs. The table had the quote by the IWW singer and martyr Joe Hill: “”Don’t waste time mourning, organize.”;
Bread and Roses, commemorating the 1912 strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, honoring the work of women in the Labor movement;
The organizing of the United Farm Workers in 1966, with their slogan, “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!);
The Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968, which Martin Luther King Jr. supported and where he was assassinated, which strikers holding sign saying “I am a man”;
Karen Silkwood, who was killed under suspicious circumstances while trying to report unsafe working conditions at a nuclear plant.
Charles E. Mather III, President of the Board of Trustees of the Fairmount Park Art Association (FPAA), opened the program, saying, “Years ago, I studied a guy named Joseph Hilstom, (also) known as Joe Hill,” and he read the lyrics of the IWW song, “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill”:
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead,"
"I never died," says he
"I never died," says he
"In Salt Lake, Joe," says I to him,
Him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."
"The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
They shot you, Joe," says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man,"
Says Joe, "I didn't die,"
Says Joe, "I didn't die…"
Peggy Bach, Director of the FPAA, explained the Association’s role in the monument: “The Association began a project known as the New Landmarks program, and this program brought together artists and communities to create new permanent public artworks for communities in Philadelphia…We asked communities what they wanted to leave behind for future generations, and the Friends of Elmwood Park were really clear, they wanted to honor the working class.”
The artist commissioned to create the art, said Bach, was John Kindness, whose father was a shipyard worker. “He understands the struggles of the working class,” added Bach, “but, most important, his work is really humanistic, it pays very close attention to everyday life and everyday detail.” Bach commended the Friends of Elmwood Park, Town Watch 90-15 , and Police District 12, saying, “They are a model for what people can do when they work together to improve their neighborhood.”
State Representative Ronald Waters said, “I’m so proud to be here today to be part of this celebration.” Acknowledging his state legislative colleagues in the audience, waters said, “When people come to you and ask you for a grant, and want you to support their grant application to make sure it moves through the process, sometimes you don’t always know the outcome or how well spent it was, you only hope it’s going towards a worthwhile project. Today, we get to all be witnesses of how this grant (for the Labor Monument) was processed. We can all say this grant was spent on a worthwhile project.”
Cathy Brady, member of Friends of Elmwood Park and activist/organizer for SEIU, who advocated for the Labor Monument for over twenty years, said, “All of you know how excited I am…For many years we talked about this thing (the Labor Monument) happening, and people used to look at me with sympathetic eyes, like, ‘Oh, that poor girl thinks this is going to happen.’” Brady commended her fellow neighbors around Elmwood Park for “keeping this park clean, keeping it looking good, making it a suitable spot for a monument.” Brady also thanks the unions and labor bodies for financial support for the project.
Artist John Kindness said of his first draft on the Monument, “I started out with the stuff (products) that was made in Philadelphia, but that stuff got interpreted as being something to do with the companies and the bosses, and not with the people who made the stuff.” Kindness recalled the stories he learned of Joe Hill and of Sacco and Vanzetti, and the labor songs of Bob Dylan. “It was Dylan,” said Kindness, “ who opened up huge vistas of vernacular song and music in this country. A lot of those songs were about gamblers, outlaws, love affairs and murders, but there were also a lot of (songs) about strikes, lockouts, scabs.. It was quite a lot of stuff in there for me to get started with, and it took off from that point.” With a banjo, Kindness played a song by Ed McFirt, an English songwriter and miner, “who says things more eloquently than I can.”
Accepting the monument on behalf of the City of Philadelphia was Michael DiBerardinis, Commissioner of Parks and recreation.
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