Banners high

Peter Lazenby reviews an exhibition of the work of Britain’s most important trade union banner maker

November 29, 2010
4 min read

The Pits and the Pendulums
Andrew Turner
National Coal Mining Museum, Wakefield

Andrew Turner is Britain’s foremost commissioned painter of trade union banners. His creations are not in the familiar conventional style, with depictions of union leaders and the simple imagery of brother workers shaking hands, women representing Justice or Liberty, or stairways to socialist paradise.

Turner’s work is intensely political, containing symbolism of such power that his banner for North Selby branch of the National Union of Mineworkers in Yorkshire was banned from the pit-head by British Coal management in the late 1980s because it was ‘too provocative’.

Turner created the banner after the miners’ strike against pit closures of 1984-85. It depicts pitmen pushing against a gravestone as it is forced down on them by mounted police. Central is a fallen miner. To his left are key figures representing the forces aligned against the striking miners: Margaret Thatcher, financiers, lawyers and media barons.

There is anger in much of Turner’s work. And often there is dark humour. In my own home hangs a print of one of his drawings – two miners dancing a jig, arm in arm, laughing. Its title is The nation mourns the death of Churchill.

Attempts to borrow one banner for this exhibition, The Pits and the Pendulums: coal miners versus free markets, failed. The former GMWU Manchester 115 branch banner is affectionately known as ‘The Hulk’. It depicts a muscular worker tearing chains apart with his hands. The union said that with forthcoming battles expected over government attacks on public services, the banner would be needed on the streets, not in an exhibition. Such is the current relevance of Turner’s work.

Born in 1939, Turner began to draw as a boy, sitting beneath the kitchen table of his home in Stoneyburn, West Lothian, Scotland, where his father was a miner. Around the table in the 1940s, miners discussed the pit, the union, politics, socialism, communism. His uncle was a founding member of the Communist Party in Scotland.

Turner, now 70 and living in Leeds, did not follow his father down the pit. He worked as a trawlerman, then attended Edinburgh College of Art.

Political activity saw him expelled. In 1962 he led a march on the city’s US consulate during the Cuban missile crisis – the clash between the US and the Soviet Union that could have sparked nuclear war. He was told he had ‘brought the college into disrepute’. He attended Leeds College of Art, then the Royal Academy in London, where he was president of the students’ union.

His diploma piece at the RA was the arresting Black Friday Triptych (pictured above), portraying the miners’ disputes of the 1920s, involving solidarity, betrayal, success and defeat, and connecting them to the strikes of 1972 and 1974. The painting also augured the 1984-85 strike against pit closures. Turner refers to it as a warning. Black Friday has been loaned to the exhibition by the South Wales area of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Another darkly allegorical yet vibrant exhibit is a banner made for the Leeds branch of the train drivers’ union Aslef. Nick Whitehead, Yorkshire regional organiser of the union, said: ‘There were gasps when it was unveiled at our club in Leeds.’

Turner, who has created two dozen banners, most taking at least a year to complete, is currently working on a new banner for the Women Against Pit Closures movement. The exhibition runs until January 23, and entry is free.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform


12