General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU)
29 September 2017
I have worked with Banner Theatre in one way or another since 1982. It was during the Miners’ Strike of 84 that I started to work more closely with them. Banner were quite simply the cultural voice of that struggle. There were many memorable performances, but one night in the Keresley Miners’ Welfare, performing with the Coventry Miners’ Wives Support Group, will stay with me for ever. Dave Dale, Dave Rogers and Kevin Hayes were rocking.
After that I was always keen to get Banner to play at Union events. Having Banner at a union Conference adds resonance to the politics of the discussions and conviviality to the proceedings. Who cannot be uplifted by their music and song? Last week I was with Banner when they performed at the Social Workers’ Union Conference. Banner were on top of their game: powerful, melodic, full of life and energy. It was a great gig proving that the spark is as alive as ever and after fifty gruelling years on the road, quite an achievement.
Later still I realised that it was vital that as Banner had spent so much time archiving the voices of the people in their recordings and videos, so it was important to ensure that Banner’s own songs and music were presented to the world and kept not just for posterity but for active engagement and performance. Together we produced Singing the Changes (2005), a song book with music and photographs, beautifully designed. If anyone wants to know what happened in Britain in the 80s and 90s they should buy this book. It tells of our history, our hopes, our fears, our struggles as a class against the most extreme form of capitalism ever invented, a parasitic capitalism which sought to destroy its host by killing industry and unions.
As time went on it became clear that Banner’s historical consciousness was essential for keeping working class history alive for a new generation of activists. The GFTU commissioned Our History, Our Future, a performance piece about the way in which working class struggle has produced our civilisation and democracy. We took this to young workers’ festivals and new reps training courses.
Banner have always supported and deepened the most important industrial and community struggles of our times. A particular case in point was their performance piece, again commissioned by the GFTU, The Future Makers. This work of art distinctively celebrated the importance of youth work and young people’s engagement in the Youth Service. The Youth Service was targeted by the Coalition government for destruction – not cuts: destruction. It was a service that uniquely empowered working class young people, it had to be destroyed because of the articulate voices it created. The Future Makers records the voice of young people resisting this and campaigning for a renewed future.
Time goes quickly and ten years after we published Singing the Changes we set about a new song book of songs written in the 2000s. This will be published in 2018. Again it will be an emblem of our times and we will make every effort to get it sold throughout the world.
No other cultural workers that I can think of in Britain have for so long and so consistently and with such moving artistry expressed the humour, culture, aspirations, and politics of the working class. To have done this on a shoe string for so long has been a testament both to Banner’s commitment and the state’s disdain of working class art.
As we move into a new epoch of rebuilding and rejection of the neoliberal evil empire that has dominated since 1976, Banner’s role becomes more important in lifting our spirits once again and building a new socialist, democratic country outside the unelected imperialist control of the EU.
Love Banner, fund Banner, protect Banner.
29 September 2017