Unique Philadelphia Monument Honors Workers

A new monument, the Labor Monument: Philadelphia’s Tribute to the American Worker, was unveiled in a ceremony earlier this month at the city’s Elmwood Park. Created by artist John Kindness, the monument—seven table-top sized “work buttons” (see photo)—memorialize the contributions of labor nationwide and Philadelphia’s working-class history.

The Fairmont Park Art Association, which commissioned the work, said Kindness, son of a shipyard worker,

searched for a symbol that could represent laborers from all industries and discovered old metal work buttons. Regardless of trade or skill, early generations of laborers often wore the same denim uniforms; hence the term “blue-collar worker.” These uniforms were fastened with metal buttons, that bore a variety of slogans and symbols.

The result is a series of seven tables. The top of each table is a bronze relief sculpture that commemorates an important person or event in labor history. Located in the center of Elmwood Park, the Work Button Tables are arranged in a circle with benches along the perimeter. Blue paving and brick detailing around the benches allude to the denim and stitching on workers’ clothing.

The seven tables feature:

  • Eugene Debs, founder of the American Railway Union, the nation’s first industrial union and one the nation’s most renowned social activists from the late 19th and early 20th centuries;
  • The fight to eliminate child labor;
  • The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—Wobblies—and Joe Hill;
  • The alliance between labor movement and the women’s rights movement;
  • The founding of the United Farm Workers (UFW) ;
  • Labor and the civil rights movement; and
  • The fight for workplace safety and health laws.

Click here for more information on the Labor Monument.


by Mike Hall, Oct 17, 2010 AFL-CIO Now News Blog