Labor Party

According to Eugene V. Debs, five-time Socialist candidate for U.S. president and co-founder of the International Labor Union, “Progress is born of agitation.” These days, a five-day work week and minimum wage are nothing to crow about, but they are hard-won liberties drenched in blood and sweat. Nothing conveys this faster than the posters that have come out of the labor movement. Like shouts of outrage frozen in livid color, these images articulate the urgency of forgotten moments in American history, from the execution of labor leader Joe Hill in 1915 to the United Farm Workers’ strike in the late ’70s. While this genre of American art is studied and respected abroad, it is still largely disregarded at home. In 2004, when one of the few extensive surveys of American labor graphics fell prey to cutbacks at UC Berkeley, Lincoln Cushing teamed up with art historian Timothy W. Drescher to create Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters. It’s a stunning book of more than 200 images, divided into chapters including “Race & Civil Rights,” “Strikes & Boycotts,” and “Heroes, Martyrs & History,” with enough historical context and aesthetic analysis to explain the symbolism in those bold fields of color.
Wed., May 27, 7 p.m., 2009

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