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The Poster Workshop’s Radical Posters Illustrate Britain’s Prolific Protest Years

When silkscreen printing was the street campaigner’s weapon of choice

Between the summer of 1968 and 1971, workers on strike, civil rights groups, and liberation movements could simply walk in and commission a silkscreen poster from a collective known as the Poster Workshop, in a small basement at 61 Camden Road, London.

It had been inspired by the Atelier Populaire in Paris, France, which had spurred from the occupation of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in May 1968. The idea was that urgent posters could be designed and printed quickly using the cheap, easy, and fast production method in order to respond to critical political and social matters, whether relating to Vietnam, Northern Island, South Africa, housing, workers’ rights, or revolution.

Published just in time to celebrate this year’s International Workers Day (May Day), Poster Workshop 1968-1971 by Poster Workshop and released by Four Corners Books reproduces all of the surviving prints, which together provide a distinctive perspective on the issues that activists focused on in 1960s and 1970s Britain. As the publishers point out, many of the topics of concern highlighted by the Poster Workshop still resonate today. A collection of work from the book will also be on display at Tate Britain from May 7.

Today, Four Corners Books takes us through some of the boldest posters produced by the workshop during hugely a prolific period.

Workers’ Control

“One of a large number of posters made advocating workers’ rights, at a time when the Labour white paper ‘In Place of Strife’ attempted to curb the power of the Trade Unions. On one occasion, following a vote to strike at Ford Dagenham, the Poster Workshop worked all night, designing, printing and finally drying hundreds of posters with hair dryers fortuitously borrowed from the hair salon above for another urgent run. The posters were then driven out to Dagenham in the small hours of the morning just in time for the arriving workforce to be informed of strike action before the start of the morning shift.”

Same Bosses Same Fight

“Fearing that the Vietnam demonstration on 27 October 1968 would lead to a student occupation of the London School of Economics, LSE director Walter Adams arranged for the gates to be locked. Students broke down the seven protective gates with sledge hammers and occupied the building between 24 and 27 October. The Poster Workshop were invited to join the fun: Workers Control and Same Bosses Same Fight were printed at the LSE during the student occupation.”

The Time is Right...

“This poster was influenced by Situationist International, a small group of social revolutionaries composed of avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political theorists. They believed that workers in an advanced capitalist society still worked merely to survive in a world where technological efficiency had hugely increased productivity, [and that life] is reduced to an immense accumulation of spectacles, the triumph of appearance over substance.”

Occupy Empty Property

“Housing, then as now, was a big issue, but people then were more likely to take the law into their own hands. The London Squatters Campaign was set up in November to occupy unused and empty property and rehouse homeless families living in inhumane conditions, to encourage further direct action, and to radicalise the struggle for decent housing for all. [As Poster Workshop puts it] squatting was both ‘a symbolic direct action and a do-it-yourself solution to homelessness’.”

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