Through word, music and image artists transform their communities. The arts play a powerful role also in the injured worker movement. Individually or collaboratively, injured workers creatively represent themselves and their stories, using artistic expression for advocacy and communication.
Mayworks, the annual Festival of Working People and the Arts, is an example of this engagement, reflecting the premise that “workers and artists share a common struggle for decent wages, healthy working conditions and a living culture.”
Skits often use humour to address the serious situations injured workers face, such as dealing with the Board bureaucracy (“Wheel of misfortune”), undergoing yet another medical assessment (“I’m tired of being dissected like a frog”), being pushed back to work without adequate time to heal [video], stigma (“The great turkey fraud”).
Prepared by and with injured workers, skits such as these or the ever-popular “My name is Joe (and I live and work in a sausage factory…)” are performed at public rallies, academic conferences, injured worker meetings…
“Meredith Revisited” – developed by members of the Injured Workers’ History Project under the direction of Kate Lushington , this popular and much performed play re-enacts the hearings of Sir William Meredith’s Commission that established Ontario’s workers’ compensation system. Based on actual transcripts from the original hearings, this play brings to life the debate and decisions made about the principles on which our system was built.
“Easy Money”, written and directed by Toronto director and writer Kate Lushington, turned the findings of an academic study on the stigma faced by injured workers into a community theatre project.
Music & Poetry
Song & word are powerful tools for social action that hold a special place in labour history. Ontario’s injured workers community also has its musical champions – including Wally Brooker, Marcelo Puente & Heather Chetwynd, the late Arlene Mantle.
Toronto’s own Justice Singers adapt the lyrics of popular songs with a special WCB twist but also put to music the poetry and lyrics of injured worker activists, including Beryl Brown, Heather Cherron von Atzigen and Sylvia Clarke. Antonio Mauro’s poem “The Injured Workers / Gli’Infortunati sul lavoro” was composed following his construction injuries of the 1960s and 70s but resonates still for all those struggling for fair compensation.
Two projects, initiated by Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO), illustrate the power of image. The photo exhibition “Injured Workers – Portraits of Life and Loss” shows the realities of how the lives of workers and their families were changed forever by an occupational injury or disease. 26 portraits give witness to courage and tenacity in dealing with loss, and the toll it takes. The participatory photo project “Overcoming Barriers with Laughter and Tears / Superando Barreras con Risas y Lágrimas”, by local group Latin American Injured Women for Justice, uses the Photovoice method to capture what life is like for them now that they have permanent disabilities – “problems dealing with workers’ compensation, the daily struggle of living in pain, the descent into poverty, and the uncertainty of not knowing if their health will deteriorate… some also show show positive aspects such as going back to school and training for a new line of work.”
- “Center for Artistic Activism” (website)
- Mobilizing Ideas. “Art, Music and Movements” (blog)
- Ruby, K. “History of Radical Puppetry.”
- Brooker, Wally. “Music Notes.” – blog by Canadian musician and journalist
- XPDNC Labour Directory .“Labour Music Links.” – links to Canadian and international websites of performers and solidarity choirs
- Barnetson, Bob. “Friday Tunes” -regular feature on labour songs in his blog “Labour and Employment in Alberta”
- “ArtBridges” (website) – community-engaged art, Canadian projects and resources
- “PhotoVoice” (website) – digital storytelling (and “Manual for Participatory Photography”)