International Labor Day Posters Exhibit

The Falmouth Public Library is one of three Cape libraries hosting an exhibit of international labor day posters which will give you a taste of May Day from around the world during the month of May.

May Day, the first of May is known throughout much of the world as the day for workers. It is celebrated in over one hundred countries by workers and trade unions. In most countries, the celebrations are not about military parades, but rather about highlighting the struggles workers are going through. It is not a recognized holiday in the US and Canada. Instead these two countries celebrate Labor Day. The reason for this is that the celebration of May Day was linked to Communism, Socialism, militant workers and other activists who fought for improving the lot of workers. The irony of this is that the movement of celebrating May Day as a workers holiday emanated from the US. A national strike was called for May 1, 1886, if Congress did not pass legislation shortening the work day to eight hours. On May 1, 60,000 workers went on strike in Chicago. The movement spread worldwide. The struggle for the 8-hour day was realized years later.

The exhibit is interesting as graphic art, and as culture and political history. Artists may appreciate the ways a similar theme is depicted in different countries and cultures. Lewis has made the foreign language posters more accessible by including information, including the translation of key phrases. Historians can see what social and political changes were being advocated for in different countries at different times. Activists can see some of their favorite causes, including the celebration of May Day itself in these posters. One example of interest Lewis points out is the difference between the tame language in the Liechtenstein posters, where workers are generally treated well, and the much more militant language in posters from countries like El Salvador, where labor unions are severely repressed.

Stephen Lewis is exhibiting May Day posters at the Falmouth, Mashpee and Bourne public libraries. Lewis has numerous May Day posters that he has collected, from France, Spain, Namibia, Australia, Denmark, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Germany and Liechtenstein to name only a few.

This project is supported in part by grants from the Falmouth and Mashpee Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and by a number of labor unions including Roofers Local 33, Asbestos Workers Local 6, IBEW Local 103, Painters DC 35 and Laborer’s Local 1249 in memory of Norman P. Thayer.

Lewis has a collection of 6,400 posters which he exhibits regularly around Massachusetts. He can be reached by email: lewisposters@gmail.com

 

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