This article appears in the current issue of Labour Research.
“It’s not enough for working people to feed our bodies with bread — we also have to nourish our hearts and spirits with art.”
Those words appear on the first page of an entire website devoted to working class art and culture — part of the website of the AFL-CIO, one of America’s national trade union centres.
This site-within-a-site (located here) exploits some of the advantages of the web, reproducing not only text but multimedia and interactive elements as well.
For example, the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington (located a block away from the White House) is now featuring an exhibition of posters and stills from 29 films focusing on workers’ issues. The exhibition is entitled “Working Class Heroes”. But you don’t have to visit the federation headquarters to see them. Many of the images from the exhibition are available online.
The Films section of the site is relatively underdeveloped, but still includes clips from Hollywood films and music videos relating to workers and their unions.
The music section allows you to hear nine songs — including “Solidarity Forever,” the unofficial anthem of the American labour movement.
Photos, cartoons and art are also available, as are reviews of books and a whole section of the site is devoted to labour history.
The AFL-CIO’s mini-site is not perfect. The music section, for example, should include lyrics and sheet music and the selection of songs available for download should be much larger — in more popular formats (such as MP3).
The whole site would benefit from linking prominently to many more external resources, such as Mark Gregory’s Australia-based UnionSong.com site which has lyrics for over 250 labour songs (and MP3 recordings of many of them).
Closer to home, the AFL-CIO should be linking to the wonderful Labor Heritage Foundation site (http://www.laborheritage.org/), with its labour song parodies — including this version of the classic “Dancing in the Street”:
“All we need is unions, Strong Unions — there’ll be Unions everywhere
There’ll be swinging, swaying, and pepper spraying
While we’re marching in the street”
A quick glance at the website of the TUC shows that we have nothing like this here in the UK, which is unfortunate. Unions are about more than improved wages and working conditions — they offer an alternative worldview and a culture all our own. Our union websites should show this side of the labour movement as well.