British trade union banner art

This video from England says about itself:

Ed Hall Banner Man

A film made by Platform Films, commissioned by RMT who are supporting ‘On the March – An Exhibition of Banners by Ed Hall‘ at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. Showing from 14 May to 30 October 2011.

By Natasha Josette in Britain:

‘There is always a pulse, something going on under the surface’

Saturday 22nd July 2017

Trade union banner artist ED HALL talks to Natasha Josette about what inspires his work

LAST Sunday at Tolpuddle Martyrs’ festival, Jeremy Corbyn pointed out the art of the trade union banners on display and the importance of supporting literature, culture and arts in our society.

Many of the banners he was looking at are the work of artist and master banner maker Ed Hall, who’s been called upon by many trade unions to tell the story of their campaigns, even when the media is trying to crush them.

“A picture paints 1,000 words and that’s what I hope to do with my banners — to tell the story of the trade union movement and injustice when the right-wing media won’t,” he tells me.

“I get to meet so many different people, that’s the joy of my work. Whatever the political atmosphere of the right-wing media there is always a pulse, something going on under the surface.”

Hall’s first brush with politics was while we worked for Lambeth Council as an architect and experienced the swansong of council house building in this country and he feels strongly that this was one of the biggest mistakes made by any government.

Once politicised, he quickly rose to becoming secretary of his Unison branch. Because Hall could draw and make things quickly he was called upon by colleagues to create the artwork for their campaigns.

He says of his time working alongside Ted Knight during the leftwing Labour council’s rebellion over the rates act in 1984: “They did something they knew would destroy their political career but they did it anyway. They were surcharged thousands for their refusal to set rates and within weeks that amount was bucket collected.

“It’s a bit like the Tolpuddle Martyrs. They were transported to Australia for swearing an oath but farmers were doing that to retain prices and wage levels.

“In the whole of the 1840s, there were prosecutions for working-class people who were swearing oaths but were there any for the landowning farmers who did the same?”

Very soon, many unions were approaching Hall to make their banners. It is a niche activity but Hall’s talent and skill for bringing protest to life through his art is very much valued by trade unionists up and down the country.

His work has grown beyond the labour movement to encompass other social justice struggles including a series of banners on deaths in police custody, starting with a portrait of Brian Douglas. Many more followed.

These banners can be seen paraded down Whitehall every year at a commemorative march organised by Douglas’s sister. Included in this magnificent series are banners also commemorating the many women who die in our prisons every year and the Brixton bombing in 1999.

As he was finishing the Brixton banner, the next two bombs went off.

“Between the Brixton and Soho attacks I was doing the banner protesting racist violence,” he recalls. “As I was making it the Admiral Duncan bomb in Soho went off. We paraded the banner from Brixton to Hyde Park and I was stitching on pictures as we went. The banner was telling the story of these horrific attacks almost like it was happening in real life.”

That particular banner caught the attention of artist Jeremy Deller who asked if he could display it, adding that he would get someone from the Tate gallery to pick it up.

“I nearly fell off my seat,” laughs Hall. Deller went on to win the Turner prize in 2004 with a work including a banner titled Windrush. That wasn’t the end of their collaboration — Hall also took part in Deller’s entry to the Venice Biennale in 2015 when he beautifully hung a selection of banners across the space.

It’s “wonderful,” says Hall, that he gets to promote British art and trade unionism through his work, which was recently hung in Banksy’s Dismaland gaining further popular recognition for his work and skill.

Hall attends Tolpuddle every year and last weekend there were examples of his work all over the festival. “Banners are such a strong British tradition,” he says.

“They are our political ideas in pictures. It gives people a sense of belonging to a struggle. You walk with the banner that you most identify with.

“The life of a banner starts with me making it but when the banner is involved in a strike, taken out for May Day or used at a protest it develops a story of its own and gains an iconic memory.”

I certainly did feel how moving the solidarity between people is at Tolpuddle as I marched with Hall. Many people stopped to photograph him and The World Transformed festival banner we were carrying and many stopped to thank him for the banners he had made for them. Later this year, that banner will be seen in Seoul at a British Council exhibition.

If anyone is flying the flag for British socialism all around the world, it has to be Ed Hall.

3 thoughts on “British trade union banner art

  1. Pingback: London Underground terror and Conservative austerity | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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