American Labor Posters
Lincoln Cushing and Timothy
Cornell University Press, 2009
Order online through Powell's Books
(workers are ILWU).
2009 Holiday Recommendation
Pegasus and Pendragon Books; "Extremely cool activist art that both
inspires and tells a crucial story in American history."
"...so many visually striking and powerful images that one cannot stop
searching through the pages for the next poster... As valuable for the
roadmap it offers for labor’s future as it is a treasure-trove of
labor’s past." BeyondChron
"it's simply fascinating
viewing that produces a sharp sense of nostalgia for a time when
powerful visual art could lead to real change for the victimized."
Publisher's Weekly, 6/13/2009
"The American labor and social protest poster now has an exquisitely
Radical Teacher, December 2009
"Whether they are urging workers to band together, reduce workplace
accidents, or oppose NAFTA, these works combine short, sharp
copywriting with bold visual statements that often rival Madison
Avenue’s finest output."
Utne Reader, March-April 2010
"..Some of the best Yankee prole propaganda
Fast Company. May 3, 2010
fine piece of work that should become a standard reference..."
Library Dust 4/26/2009
"[The authors]...Set out to change lingering perceptions of collective
action as crooked politics...They record the rich and often forgotten
visual history of U.S. trade unionism, civil rights activism, and
agitation for democracy."
"In these times of fraught union-management relations brought about by
the global economic recession and employers' consequent need to cut
costs, this new book is a vivid reminder of the sad fact that the two
sides of the production coin have never really gotten along."
The Toronto Globe and Mail,
review with gallery, 6/26/2009
"For the images alone, this book is worth adding to the collection of
any student of American labor history or poster art.", PopMatters ,
"...An interesting study of one of the less examined fields of poster
art: their use as propaganda for the American labor movement."
Milwaukee Shepherd Express,
"This is a full and educational volume,
and those of us who have lived in the dynamic society where the forces
have worked and continue to live will want it."
Journal of American Culture, 9/1/2009, review by Ray B. Browne
"The main thing, the overarching
thing, about this volume is the illustrations themselves, the lush
color, the detail, the loving care given to creating something that can
be studied by art-lovers and social movement activists but also by
future artists, seeking ways to make art and reach ordinary people.”
Paul Buhle, ZEEK magazine
About this book
Despite the existence of labor images going back to some of the
earliest examples of representational art, very little has been done in
this country to acknowledge the contribution labor posters have made to
our national culture. Other countries, including Germany,
England, and Australia, take this genre seriously, but ironically it
has been up to foreign scholars to produce some of the best research
and successful publications on our own culture. The few books that
treat these posters are either broader art exhibit catalogs or
illustrated sections of books on specific labor themes, such as the
history of the Industrial Workers of the World. No single
U.S.-published title exists which offers a broad survey of this
specific art form. The graphics themselves have
experienced the general fate of other “oppositional” cultural
documents, where low social status has resulted in public neglect.
begins to fill this void. Educate! Agitate! Organize!
includes over 200 full-color images (from a database of over 800
posters) and roughly 20,000 words, plus a bibliography and index. The
book features many important labor archives and special collections
such as those listed here.
Images are clustered into annotated subject areas, such as “Dignity
& Exploitation,” “Race & Civil Rights,” “Internationalism &
Peace,” “Organizing & Solidarity,” “Strikes & Boycotts,”
“Democracy, Voting & Patriotism,” and “Heroes, Martyrs &
History.” For each image the historical background is supplemented with
aesthetic analysis that helps readers understand the social forces
represented in the graphics as well as the cultural origins and design
strategies. Although a few of the posters are by well-known artists
such as Ben Shahn or Rockwell Kent, most are by less-known professional
artists and amateurs. The scope includes historical and contemporary
This project was endorsed
by the California Labor Federation.
Lincoln Cushing and Tim Drescher
Return to Docs
Populi - Documents for the public
Errors and corrections:
Inevitably, mistakes happen. Here are ones found in this
-P. 79, "Globalization" poster credit, was not provided by Yi
-P. 168, credit for Forgotten; designer is Holly Syrrakos
-P. 196, credit name should be tenaya lafore
-P. 201; Konopacki, Mike 43, 43
Green, noted labor historian, folklorist, and enthusiastic
A!E!O! supporter through the Fund for Labor Culture and History passed away at 91; see NPR
story and Library
of Congress article.
the Riveter"image is not the same as
"We Can Do It!"
Who we are:
Lincoln Cushing is an
author and archivist specializing in social movements. He is currently
the Digital Archivist for Kaiser Permanente. Previously he was the
Cataloging and Electronic Outreach Librarian at U.C. Berkeley’s
Bancroft Library and held a similar position at U.C. Berkeley’s
Institute of Industrial Relations Library. As an active member in the
American Federation of Teachers he served on the bargaining team for
the statewide U.C. Librarians contract.
Prior to working as a labor librarian Mr.
Cushing was a member of a worker-owned union printshop (GCIU) for 20
years. He is also a designer, and has created graphics for the
Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Party, U.S. Labor Against the
War, and others. His cultural work includes serving as an organizer for
the annual Western
Workers Labor Heritage Festival and contributing to the 2003
statewide exhibit “At Work”
sponsored by the California Historical Society and the California Labor
Tim Drescher is a retired college teacher, is a
historian of political, labor and community art, who taught, among
other subjects, labor studies and graphic art history for more than
thirty years. He is the author of San Francisco Bay Area
Murals: Communities Create Their Muses, 1904-1997 (Pogo Press,
second revised edition 1998. He is currently co-director of Rescue
Public Murals!, a national organization dedicated to preserving our
community mural heritage.
Page last revised 5/19/2021
WE do mind dying, Doug Minkler,
1980; Cushing Archive.
There is no prejudice in kids unless adults put it there, UAW Fair
Practices Department, circa 1963; Reuther Archive.
Protect yourself from this menace; IWW, circa 1921; Reuther
Black Workers Congress, 1971; Cushing Archive.
Working women: we can shut this country down, Nancy Hom,
1980; Cushing Archive (digital)
I am somebody - together we are strong, United Farm
Workers of America, circa 1977; Reuther Archive.
Justice for janitors in San Francisco, Kristin Prentice
for SEIU Local 87, 1995; Inkworks Press Archive.