CTA & You

The Art of the Protest

Visual work has long punctuated labor struggles, including current CTA actions
Artists Favianna Rodriguez and Claudio Martinez designed this parachute banner to highlight Oakland’s teacher retention crisis.

From a colorful banner created in 1835 for the Journeyman House Carpenters’ Association of Philadelphia, to the roller-skating “Don’t Be a Scab” girls in New York’s Union Square, to a multitude of creative (and rainproof) signs that lined the sidewalk in front of every school in Los Angeles in January, art has always been an integral part of the labor movement.

Whether simple, persuasive, incisive or just downright funny, the art of labor struggles serves many purposes: to spread the word of injustice, attract attention, build support for workers, shame the bosses, and rally the union to victory, among others. Many famous works of labor art are striking and iconic, like the “I AM A MAN” sign carried by Memphis sanitation workers during their 1968 strike, and timeless in their simplicity, like the black and red Aztec eagle of United Farm Workers.

The art of labor is rooted in our communities, reflecting the images, values, hopes and dreams of united workers. It is through these creations that they speak to the public about their struggles — about what it means to be a worker in America.

Recent community “art builds” held by United Teachers Los Angeles and the Oakland Education Association have embraced the idea that labor struggles are community struggles, inviting local artists, students, parents and neighbors not only to paint, draw and create, but also to talk about how they can work together to create opportunity and improve their collective quality of life.

“Our fight is for a better future for public education in Oakland,” says OEA President Keith Brown. “We invited local parents and students to join us in creating the artwork and signs that will help educators defend and promote Oakland public schools.”

To see an extensive collection of impactful and evocative labor art throughout history, visit Labor Arts.

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