The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 15, 2017

New working class statue pays tribute to labor

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

SAGINAW - Just in time for Labor Day, a new statue honoring the working class has been unveiled in front of the city's Art Museum. 

A dedication ceremony was held Thursday, Aug. 31 for "The Last Whistle," a bronze statue created by artist Ken Newman depicting an older working man with his lunch box in one hand and a Thermos bottle in the other, stepping down and perhaps on his way home after a hard day's labor.

Saginaw Art Museum Executive Director Stacey Gannon told the attendees at the ceremony that at a time when statues and other public objects are being torn down - such as those of Confederate generals in the South - "we in Saginaw are putting up a statue to celebrate our working history, our past. This statue is an outstanding depiction of who we are."

The sculpture, the Art Museum said, "is a wonderful depiction of Saginaw’s blue-collar history and is a logical addition to the Saginaw Art Museum permanent collection."

Newman, an Idaho resident, flew in with family members to take part in the dedication. "It's about labor," he said of his work. "I'm an artist, but I'm the product of labor." He said working people "have had a strong influence on my life," teaching him the "ethics of hard work and commitment." The person depicted by the statue "could be your father, or grandfather who influenced you. The statue is a way to pay back what was given to me."

Gannon said a number of local unions played some role in getting the statue placed in front of the museum, including IBEW Locals 692 and 557, Laborers Local 1098, the Mid-Michigan Labor Council, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85, the Tri-County Building Trades, the United Steelworkers, and the UAW. 

She said there is a strong connection between the art world and that of skilled workers. "A career in the trades is a skilled and noble one," Gannon said, "and for those who are of the blue collar generation and who contributed to the statue, we salute you."

Gannon singled out IBEW Local 557 retiree Donnie Miller for voluntarily doing the extensive amount of work necessary to fish and pull wire through masonry in front of the museum so that the statue can have a spotlight at night. Donnie, in turn, thanked fellow IBEW retiree Dave Luth for his help.

"It's been fun, I was glad to do it," Miller said. "And it's a beautiful light. To me the statue is a fantastic tribute to the working man." Miller laughed that the museum was so appreciative of his volunteer work that they asked him back to do some more. "I've really enjoyed working with them, they're so appreciative of everything we do," he said. 

A number of labor of unions, including IBEW Local 557, set up booths in the museum's parking lot during the ceremony in a show of solidarity. Showing off some of what electricians do were IBEW Local 557 President Rob White and Apprenticeship Director Rick Mason. "To me it's awesome, I think the statue is perfect for Saginaw," White said. "It's a working class town, and I think the statue is fitting of what a blue collar worker would look like."

Angie Miller, president of the Mid-Michigan Labor Council, said everything about the dedication ceremony was appropriate: the statue itself, its location, and its dedication just before the Labor Day weekend.

"The hard-working people this statue represents built our nation," she said, adding that the organization of those hard-working people is the single most important factor in making workplaces safer and raising the standard of living for all workers.

"On this Labor Day I ask that all of you think about the labor that you and members of your community do every day," Miller said. "My hope is that Labor Day serves to remind us to fight for the betterment of all. Happy Labor Day. Solidarity forever."