Agitate! Educate! Organize!
American Labor

Agitate! Educate! Organize! book cover

Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher
$24.95, Cornell University Press, 2009
ISBN 978-0-8014-7427-9

Order online through Powell's Books (workers are ILWU).

Interview in the Design Observer 9/8/2009

2009 Holiday Recommendation Pegasus and Pendragon Books; "Extremely cool activist art that both inspires and tells a crucial story in American history."

" 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 5/14/2009

"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 documented history."
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 around.."
Fast Company. May 3, 2010

"...Excellent—a really 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."
Creative Review, August 2009

"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 , 6/9/2009

"...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, 6/29/2009

"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.

A!E!O! 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 examples.

This project was endorsed by the California Labor Federation.

Thank you.

In solidarity,

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 book.
-P. 79, "Globalization" poster credit, was not provided by Yi Kai.
-P. 168, credit for Forgotten; designer is Holly Syrrakos
-P. 196, credit name should be tenaya lafore
-P. 201; Konopacki, Mike 43, 43

Archie 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.
"Rosie 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 Federation.

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

Image credits:

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 Archive.

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.