clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A South Side mural tells the labor story of stockyard workers

History of the Packinghouse Worker illustrates the United Packinghouse Workers of America union’s struggles.

A United Packinghouse Worker carries a picket sign.
Sun-Times archives

While I certainly commend the Sun-Times’s coverage of Solidarity, the United Electrical Workers murals by John Pitman Weber and José Guerrero, it’s also important to note that Chicago’s South Side—the cradle of the national community mural movement—boasts one of the city’s and nation’s landmark labor-related murals, History of the Packinghouse Worker, painted by William Walker on the side of a former Local union hall at 4859 S. Wabash Ave.

The work was commissioned by the Illinois Labor History Society in 1974, and restored a quarter-century later. (And is ripe for a fresh coat of paint!)

This epic public mural illustrates the struggles of the United Packinghouse Workers of America to organize racially diverse stockyards workers in the face of inhumane capitalist forces.

It is not only one of the country’s surviving outdoor-mural masterworks, its classical composition compared to that of Diego Rivera and Giotto. It is also one of only three socially and racially conscious murals by “People’s Art” instigator William Walker that still remains on Chicago streets (out of his total of about three dozen).

Like many Walker — and labor — murals, it elevated the everyday lives of workers to heroic stature. It is full of sly commentary, like a corporate boss placing marbles in the head of a scribbling reporter. The UPWA merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen in the late 1960s.

Walker’s mural is largely commemorative, since the Union Stockyards had closed three years earlier. He created it in consultation with local workers, residents, and union officials like Ralph Helstein, a civil rights activist and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr.

The artwork is publicly accessible 24 hours a day. It belongs to the community — to everyone.

Jeff W. Huebner, Chicago

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

Raise the minimum wage

Why is a minimum wage of $15 per hour a pie in the sky for us, while in other industrialized nations a minimum wage of $20 (or more) per hour has been the norm for many years?

If our minimum wage has kept pace with inflation in the last 40 years or so, it would be nearly $25 per hour by now.

Lanlan Hoo, Wheaton

Mayor should own up to city’s gun violence

What Mayor Lightfoot seems to forget is that even though 60% of illegal guns may come from out of state, the trigger is pulled on those guns by Chicagoans.

Same old, same old in Chicago. Always blaming others for the behavior of your own.

Despite a reported extra 1,000 officers on the street, nothing’s changed. Stop blaming others for the behavior of your citizens.

Mike Viola, Bartlett