Rembert – “Anonymous”

by Winfred Renbert

Rembert’s work depicts his seven years laboring on a chain gang.  

His hard life and his works are the subjects of “An Artist and How He Survived the Chain Gang”, in the May 10, 2021 edition of the New Yorker.

“Anonymous”, 2015. Dye on carved and tooled leather

We Do the Work

Words and Music by Anne Feeney

We plant the food, we drive the cab.
We load the ship, we run the lab.
We build the bridges, we fly the planes.
We do the work, this is our day.

We do the work
We do the work,
We do the work, this is our day.

We print the news,we clean the streets.
We build the towers, we change the sheets.
We drive the bus, we lay the stone.
We do the work. This is our home.

We do the work
We do the work.
We do the work. This is our home.

We dig the ditch, we change the tire.
We give the care, we fight the fire.
We teach the kids, we lend a hand.
We do the work. This is our land.

We do the work.
We do the work.
We do the work. This is our land.

We type the page, we serve the meals.
We sew the cloths, we mold the steel.
We sell the food, we pave the way.
We do the work. This is our day.

We do the work.
We do the work.
We do the work. This is our day.

Happy Labor Day!

Workers at a City Council Meeting

by Johann Peter Hasenclever , 1810-1853

In 1848, revolutions broke out throughout monarchical Europe, as coalitions of merchants, middle-class liberals, and factory workers fought for democracy and economic justice.  The workers’ demands for jobs, food, and housing were largely unsuccessful, as the coalitions disintegrated, and the demands of the middle class for greater political rights became their primary focus. In one good outcome, however, serfs were emancipated in areas of Eastern Europe where serfdom remained.

Here, factory workers present their cause to the Dusseldorf City Council, in a non-violent setting that could well become tumultuous in the near future.

(Düsseldorf City Council Meeting, autumn of 1848).
Oil on canvas, 1848-49


words and music by Billy Joel

Well we’re living here in allentown
And they’re closing all the factories down
Out in bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line
Well our fathers fought the second world war
Spent their weekends on the jersey shore
Met our mothers in the uso
Asked them to dance
Danced with them slow
And we’re living here in allentown
But the restlessness was handed down
And it’s getting very hard to stay
Well we’re waiting here in allentown
For the pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coke
And chromium steel
And we’re waiting here in allentown
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away
Every child had a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an american flag in our face
Well I’m living here in allentown
And it’s hard to keep a good man down
But I won’t be getting up today
And it’s getting very hard to stay
And we’re living here in allentown

Three Pairs of Shoes

by Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh felt an affinity with Charles Dickens and his focus on the everyday hardships in the life of the modest and working people. Van Gogh wrote to his brother: “In my view there’s no other writer who’s as much a painter and draughtsman as Dickens”. These Parisian laborers’ shoes depict that admiration. Van Gogh said: “I want to paint what Dickens has done with words.”

Oil on canvas, 1886-1887

[from] The Monkey’s Wrench [Encore post]

by Primo Levi

     (translated from the Italian by William Weaver)

[A chemist (the narrator) and a rigger, Fausone, are trading stories about the work they do.]

This was the central subject, and I realized Fausone knew it.  If we except those miraculous and isolated moments fate can bestow on a man, loving your work (unfortunately the privilege of a few) represents the best, most concrete approximation of happiness on earth.  But this is a truth not many know.  This boundless region, the region of le boulot, the job, il rusco – of daily work, in other words – is less known than the Antarctic, and through a sad and mysterious phenomenon it happens that the people who talk most, and loudest, about it are the very ones who have never traveled through it.  To exalt labor, in official ceremonies an insidious rhetoric is displayed, based on the consideration that a eulogy or a medal costs much less than a pay raise, and they are also more fruitful.  There also exists a rhetoric on the opposite side, however, not cynical, but profoundly stupid, which tends to denigrate labor, to depict it as base, as if labor, our own or others’, were something we could do without, not only in Utopia, but here, today; as if anyone who knows how to work were, by definition, a servant, and as if, on the contrary, someone who doesn’t know how to work, or knows little, or doesn’t want to, were for that very reason a free man.  It is sadly true that many jobs are not lovable, but it is harmful to come on to the field charged with preconceived hatred.  He who does this sentences himself, for life, to hating not only work, but also himself and the world.  We can and must fight to see that the fruit of labor remains in the hands of those who work, and that work does not turn into punishment, but love, or, conversely, hatred of work is an inner, original heritage, which depends greatly on the story of the individual and less than is believed on the productive structures within which the work is done.

The Ballad of the Bachelor Beekeeper

by Hannington Mumo

The Mutaitho hill zigzags its way to the borderlines of the sky
And to the opposite poses the historic Muilu hill once a shrine;
Now there between slithers the Kimongo River where huge rocks lie;
It’s on the banks of this river where the bachelor beekeeper lives.

 His bald head is not worthy a ballad
Nor are his words so many to deserve a hoot,
It is his bee keeping zeal that stirs your blood;
An enterprise he’s run for years thirty and three.

And don’t think of the sophisticated box hives
Where you ferry the insects and lock them in,
He fells a log and hollows it all with his knives,
Till a home for bees he fashions there.

Not the low-lying things folks call hives,
Well-smoothed wooden objects lodged up the twigs
Of the most slippery trees with leaves like chives
Where no cunning badger would ever dare venture.

And he does his seasonal harvesting in the dead of the night,
While softer men curl to listen to the snores of their wives;
A night traveler will see his hairless head reflect the moonlight
And think they’ve spotted the nightly escapades of a ghost.

Now why he remains a bachelor at sixty and three
Is a secret only known to his beekeeping mind,
Perhaps nothing charms him more than a flourishing hive,
Perchance no girl would enchant more than the honeyed bee.

Copyright © by Hannington Mumo, a Kenyan poet, writer, and journalist