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The 2012 Great Labor Arts Exchange: Conference on Creative Organizing and Camp Solidarity

The Great Labor Arts Exchange poster image from www.laborheritage.org

Darryl Moch is the executive director of the Labor Heritage Foundation.

The culture of labor solidarity sparkled on June 22–25 at the 34th annual Great Labor Arts Exchange held at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum Heights, Md.  Sponsored by the Labor Heritage Foundation (LHF), the three-day program of workshops, sharing experiences and song/performance/art-swapping featured artists and cultural activists from a variety of unions and organizations, including international artist-activists from Canada and Nigeria.

Highlighting the event was the 15th Conference on Creative Organizing, a program that trains participants on how to inject excitement into union and political campaigns.  This year, 40 Union Summer interns learned how to develop and use cultural and artistic skills in their labor and community organizing projects. Additionally, the newly created Camp Solidarity worked with young people on the history of labor, artistic expression and the power of collective engagement.

Members from several labor choruses--New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and the California Bay area--were represented at the event.  The documentary film, “Brothers on the Line,” was screened, exploring the legacy of the Reuther brothers—Walter, Roy and Victor—leaders of UAW. The musical workshop, “Occupy Lawrence: The Bread and Roses Strike,” celebrated the 100th anniversary of that landmark strike with songs, photographs and historical narrative.  

The creator of the UFCW Local 400 anthem, Head Roc (a D.C.-based Hip Hop artist), along with members of Local 400, the Hip Hop for Justice group from North Carolina and OB (of Kill The Autocrat) presented a performance workshop on the next wave of union organizing and labor music represented in Hip Hop.  National Writers Union members hosted a series of workshops and Tunde Odunlade, internationally acclaimed print and textile artist, helped create artworks for the walls of the Maritime Institute Auditorium, along with other artists' paintings, drawings and sculptures in the gallery.  

Participants recited poetry, dramatized stories, danced, sang and listened to a playback of a rare 1936 sound recording of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).  Much music was provided by members of American Federation of Musicians Local 1000 on stage and during late night jams. 

The conference capped off with a public concert at which the Labor Heritage Foundation presented its Joe Hill Lifetime Achievement Award to Saul Schniderman, president of AFSCME Council 26 (Federal Employees), and Pablo Davis, assistant painter of the “Detroit Industry” mural created by Diego Rivera.

For more than 200 years, the tradition of telling labor’s story through art and culture has inspired America’s workers. This work that we do is vital to the success of our movement and to the energy needed to inspire this and the next generations to organize, unionize and fight for dignity, justice and quality in our workplaces and our communities.  Here is where the intersection of labor and community intersect and here is where we build for the future of our movement and our society: the 99%.

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