Organizations in many countries use posters as a way to communicate ideas and messages to their audience. Posters are sometimes used as billboards and are pasted on walls, fences, and poles all over a city. Unions sometimes hang posters in work places to warn of dangers, educate about benefits or inspire actions. Posters sometimes use mainly the written word to communicate a message. Other times they rely on creative art to communicate the idea. It is an art form that is easily accessible to many people. The art goes to the people rather than the people having to go to a museum. It is a communication tool that is less frequently used by unions in the United States.


The posters of this exhibit speak to the basic human rights of people that are recognized by the United Nations as rights that are universal and should be afforded to all human beings. There are 30 rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as established by the UN. See . These rights include things like, the right to be free from torture, the right to choose ones religion, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions and the right to work, among others. December 10, is recognized as International Human Rights Day.


Amnesty International is recognized as the foremost organization dedicated to protecting and defending people’s rights . The year 2011 was the 50th anniversary of AI. Amnesty works tirelessly to publicize human rights violations around the world. They also work to help protect the victims of human rights violations. The organization has been accused by various governments as being a tool of some other government that in turn has accused them of being a tool of the first government. This is done to deflect criticism of one’s own human rights violations. One way AI does their work is through members all over the world who will write letters to a government that has control over a victim of human rights abuses. By exposing and embarrassing a government, AI has successfully stopped the torture of an individual or won their freedom. Amnesty also works to abolish the death penalty. This is in keeping with Article 3 of the Declaration. The United States is one of a minority of countries that have not legally abolished the death penalty.


Labor union activists are frequently the victims of human rights violations and therefore often the targets of campaigns to defend their rights. The nature of the work of unions is to win better pay and working conditions for their members and for workers in general. Because of this activity, they often challenge the interests of wealthy and powerful people. Union leaders are frequently fired from their jobs, arrested for picketing, blacklisted from work, and too often thrown in jail, assaulted and tortured. They suffer from these attacks even though they have not broken any laws. In the United States, in 2011, the Governor of Wisconsin became a human rights violator when he took away collective bargaining rights for public employees. He was in circumvention of Article 23 of the declaration of Human Rights.


Amnesty International and labor unions have overlapping interests in the work they do. Even when the victim of human rights violations is a politician, on many occasions they are targeted because of their stance in protection of worker’s rights. Salvador Allende, a former president of Chile, was murdered by the Chilean military, partially for his government’s support for working people. Lula do Silva, the former president of Brasil, was once imprisoned by the military dictatorship in that country. He was a union activist and leader prior to his imprisonment. Subsequent to the end of the dictatorship, he was elected and re-elected President of Brasil.


The placards next to the posters give the main identification, the country where the poster was produced, the organization it was produced for, translations to English (where necessary), the name of the artist (where known) and the date created (where known).


The posters are from a collection of more than 4500 of Stephen Lewis. He is a long-time activist in the labor movement, and the former Treasurer of his union. Stephen has exhibited at a number of public libraries in Massachusetts and two of the state Heritage parks. He has presented at the annual conference of the National Council on Public History, and on some cable television programs. He can be reached by email at or at Facebook under labor/progressive political posters. The posters/photos were contributed by friends, collected at conferences, visits to some of the organizations, and from connections made through the internet.