By Maggie Falshaw
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Poster Workshop 1968-1971

This article is over 5 years, 10 months old
Issue 438

During the student protests in France in 1968, students took over printmaking studios of art schools, including at the Sorbonne École des Beaux Arts where the poster production collective Ateliers Populaires was established.

This movement inspired people elsewhere, including the individuals involved in the Poster Workshop that was set up first in Notting Hill Gate, London, before moving to Camden Town. Silk screen production was one of the main methods of printing posters for political campaigns. It was cheap — you could build your own silk screen press — and you could produce posters in your kitchen.

People and groups could use the facilities to produce posters advertising political meetings and campaigns. An important part of the Poster Workshop activities was the support they gave to skill people up so that they could make their own posters (though their volunteers would produce posters when necessary). They had travelling poster workshops in the London School of Economics canteen during the student occupation, at Essex University, Galway, and for the People’s Democracy in Free Belfast and Free Derry. They were well rooted in the labour and left political movements.

Lord writes of the time they were contacted at 10pm by shop stewards at Ford Dagenham to say they’d just had a vote to strike and needed posters before the morning shift, which was due to start at 6am. Volunteers worked through the night producing and printing the posters. The workshop was in the basement of a hairdressing salon and they used the hair dryers to dry the posters before driving them to Dagenham in the morning.

Poster Workshop was part of a wider political and cultural movement, which included agit-prop theatre groups taking performances to picket lines, tenants’ associations and community centres. They had no fixed charges, people could pay what they could afford. Political street theatre groups would organise benefits for Poster Workshop.

This book is mainly a collection of political posters produced over a four year period (1968 to 1971). The posters themselves are fascinating and show the wide range of political issues and campaigns at the time. These include opposition to the Vietnam War, to the apartheid regime in South Africa, and support for students’ and workers’ struggles.

The Poster Workshop also supported the civil rights movement in Ireland and consistently opposed imperialism and capitalism.

Many of the inequalities and injustices that people were fighting about then are also being fought against today. Racism and housing are two issues that stand out when looking at the collection of posters. In response to a right wing statement by an MP, “The British people are fed up with being trampled underfoot by foreign scum,” the student occupation at LSE produced posters proclaiming, “We are all foreign scum”. In response to the housing crisis posters proclaimed: “Occupy empty property. Landlords out”; “Homes for people not for profit”; “No more office blocks. Build more homes”.

The posters were for agitation purposes and not for collector’s items or profit. Fortunately the Poster Workshop kept one copy of each poster produced and is able to reproduce them in this interesting book.

Today, although we advertise meetings and campaigns on the internet and social media a few flyers attached to lamp posts still have a role to play in bringing people to meetings and the streets.

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