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Keeping the fight alive

High-tech trade union banner commemorates historic sacrifices
Mark Metcalf, Thursday, March 26th, 2015


The growing connection between Unite’s community and industrial members saw the unveiling of the world’s first dual-purpose trade union banner by the Derby Unite Community branch last week (March 19).

 

Historical images of a Derby strike pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been combined with a 21st century communication Quick Response (QR) code. When scanned by a mobile phone this leads people to a website which will encourage them to get involved by informing them of the nature of the protest.

 

Anyone scanning last week on the Unite National Day of Action against Benefits Sanctions was taken to Unite Community’s website detailing the day of action.

 

The cost of the banner has largely been paid for by the Derby Manufacturing and Rail Branch of Unite. It has been designed by local Unite community member Jim Griffiths and beautifully created by Ed Hall, Britain’s leading manufacturer of marching banners for trade unions and other campaign groups.

 

The banner states We Honour the Derby Silk Workers 1833-34 and will be carried on the annual commemorative march organised each weekend before May Day by the Derby Trades Union Council.

 

Honouring the sacrifices made by early trade unionists, the banner pays tribute to a moment in history when up to 2,000 Derby silk workers left work in November 1833 to June 1834. Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, in which Robert Owen was prominent, was established with an important branch in Derby that included weavers, iron workers, builders and silk thrusters.

 

When silk manufacturer, Mr Frost, discharged one of his employees, his fellow workmates walked out in support. Within a week 800 people, in a town of 24,000, were affected. When many local employers then declared they would not employ trade unionists, another 500 walked out and by February the numbers had leaped to 2,000. Attempts to persuade strike-breakers imported from London led to many strikers being imprisoned.

 

The strike continued for many months but eventually collapsed as starvation set in. Many strikers were subsequently victimised and never worked in their trade again. Nevertheless, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers at Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, Tolpuddle Martyrs and London Dockers of 1889.

 

Helping to unveil the banner, Paul Bickerton, who in addition to being an elected workplace rep is treasurer of the local Derby Manufacturing and Rail Branch, said:

 

“Our members back the local Unite Community branch that is doing great work in defending the welfare state and helping prevent a split between those in and out of work. I’m keen to see the banner on the annual march, which rightly keeps alive the silk worker’s fight, and pleased to know Unite is leading the way in modern up-to-date methods of communicating with the public.”

 

“We would like to thank Unite members for their financial support and look forward to working closely with them in the future in opposing austerity,” said Derby Unite Community branch chair Cecilia Wright.

 

Banner Front

Derby Community banner front

 

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