2017 Mayworks Labour Arts Awards

The Mayworks Labour Arts Awards have been recognizing significant contributions to the arts and labour movement since 2013. This year the members of the 5th Annual Awards Jury, Pramila Aggarwal, Helen Kennedy, May Lui and Anna Willats award the following prizes.

The Labour Activist Award for Excellence in Contribution to Labour Arts

This award recognizes labour activists who have made outstanding use of the arts to promote the values of labour and social justice movements.

Award recipient: PAM JOHNSON

Pam Johnson is dancer/choreographer, trade union activist and socialist with a long history in both the art community and the social justice community. She has organized dance flashmobs and other political culture jams for climate justice, women’s rights and reproductive justice, against war and in support of striking workers. She has created dance shows inspired by the red dancers of the 1930s and to fight draconian Bill C-51. She directed the first Canadian production of Howard Zinn’s play, Marx in Soho. She is currently working on the Vimy Anti-War Project featuring the plays of Canadian revolutionary playwright David Fennario.

The Artist Award for Excellence in Contribution to Labour and Social Justice Movement

This award recognizes artists who have significantly captured the values of the labour and social justice movements in their art.

Award recipient: SYRUS MARCUS WARE

Syrus is a Vanier Scholar, visual artist, activist, curator and educator whose works have been shown in Toronto and across the country. Syrus uses painting, installation and performance to explore social justice frameworks and black activist culture. A co-curator of The Cycle, a two-year disability arts performance initiative of the National Arts Centre, Syrus was also the Coordinator of the Art Gallery of Ontario Youth Program for 12 years. He is the inaugural Daniels Spectrum’s Artist-in-Residence (2016/17). Syrus is a core-team member of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, and working on a PhD at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

The Labour Organization Awards for Excellence in Contribution to Labour Arts

This award recognizes labour organizations which have made outstanding use of the arts to engage their membership.


USW Local 1998 represents over 8000 administrative and technical staff at the University of Toronto. Beginning in September 2016, the USW1998 Human Rights Committee launched ‘STEELwool’. Spanning all three campuses, the project’s goal was to engage 132 members to knit scarves for the homeless and display them as an art installation on Dec. 6th’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Over 180 volunteers handmade over 200 scarves and distributed them across 10 shelters. The project was inspired by the adoption of Bill 132, which strengthens policies to manage sexual harassment in the workplace. The project engaged and educated members about political policy and demonstrated that ‘Steel cares’ for the communities in which we live.

The Labour Creative Maverick Award

This award recognizes an unusual and creative use of the arts to promote labour rights and awareness.

Sponsored by Unifor


The GHC is a group of activists, artists, writers, and researchers passionate about comics, history and social change. They produce alternative histories – people’s histories – using the accessible format of comics to help people understand the historical roots of contemporary social issues. According to their website, their comics show “that you don’t need a cape and a pair of tights to change the world.” Their first two graphic novels, May Day: A Graphic History of Protest in Canada (2012) and Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle (2016) were published by Between the Lines. The GHC has also created a free downloadable labour history colouring book, The Little Red Colouring Book (2016).

The Min Sook Lee Award for Outstanding Contribution to Labour Arts

Named in honour of activist-artist Min Sook Lee, this award recognizes those who have captured the values of the labour and social justice movements in their art or through their activism over many years.

Award recipient: LILLIAN ALLEN

Call her Doctor Dub; she will resuscitate an ailing poem, rescue a dying metaphor. Community activist and two-time Juno award winner, Lillian Allen is as a leading influential figure on the Canadian cultural landscape. As one of its lead originators, she has specialized in the writing and performing of dub poetry, and continues to innovate the form and spread its wings into community engagement. She has spent almost four decades writing, publishing, and performing her eclectic brand of politically charged poetry to local and international audiences. Lillian Allen is currently a Creative Writing Professor at the OCAD University, and working to launch a BFA program in Creative Writing in the fall of 2018.


Please join us at the fifth annual Mayworks Labour Arts Awards Ceremony & Fundraising Gala, taking place on April 1, 2017 at the Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto at 6 pm.
  • To invite your friends on Facebook: click here.


  • Pramila Aggarwal is an award-winning community activist and for 20 years was a Professor in the Community Worker Program at George Brown College. She is currently doing research on the contribution of Punjabi grandmothers to Canadian society and a Visiting Professor at International Institute of Adult and Lifelong Education, Delhi, India.
  • Helen Kennedy is a retired community worker still active in labour education in her union – the Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE. Helen is co-chair of Mayworks, a regular contributor to the People’s Voice and very happy grandmother of 5.5 grandkids.
  • May Lui is a writer, a long time community activist and anti-racist educator. She is a former Mayworks Festival board member and feminist-about-town.
  • Anna Willats is a long time social justice advocate, activist and educator based in Toronto. She is involved in the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (tpac.ca) and the Groundswell Community Justice Trust Fund (groundswellfund.ca), and publishes a weekly e-newsletter called Rise Up! News & Events.