The formation of trade unions was integral to establishing what EP Thompson described as a 'working class presence' in the first part of the nineteenth century. Trade unions sought to represent working people's grievances and to present their demands and, at least initially, were strongly tied to particular trades. Their banners have long been a key way in which such a working class presence was shaped, crafted and asserted. Through the use of colour, text and symbol banners conveyed important messages and ideas designed to both cement existing solidarities and energize working people to action.
Until the repeal of the 1799 Combination Act in 1825, membership of trade societies (the precursors to the trade union) was illegal in the UK. The tradition of union banners dates back to secret trade society meetings held in pub rooms and other private locations, where the walls would have been adorned with items of regalia extolling the virtues of the trade and society membership.
After 1825 the trade societies began the long tradition of organised workers participating in public marching events. The trade societies grew into the New Model Unions of the 1850s. This period, until the economic slump of the 1920s, is considered the peak of banner use and the Union movement with its strong marching tradition enlivened and politicised Britain's high streets and town squares with a festival of colours, symbols and slogans.
The tradition of making Trade Union banners for processions, marches and protests continues. The posts below tell the story of some of these banners and the people who carried and continue to carry them.
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