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The “most revolutionary” banner in British trade union history? Political identities and the birth, life, purgatory, and rebirth of the “red” Follonsby miners’ banner

Mates, Lewis (2021) 'The “most revolutionary” banner in British trade union history? Political identities and the birth, life, purgatory, and rebirth of the “red” Follonsby miners’ banner.', International labor and working-class history., 100 . pp. 109-135.


The history and iconography of trade union banners has been surprisingly under-explored since it was first taken seriously as a subject of study in the early 1970s. The nostalgia evident in these early accounts for an age that seemed to contemporaries then to be fleeting seems particularly incongruous given the more recent reinvigoration of the trade union demonstration. This article seeks to redress the balance by focusing on the Follonsby miners’ lodge banner. First unveiled in 1928, in a pit village on the northern edge of Durham coalfield in northeast England, the Follonsby miners’ banner was later hailed as a foremost candidate for the most revolutionary trade union banner in British history. This unsubstantiated claim is important in itself, as mass trade unionism in Britain is characterized by moderation and a reluctance to engage in radical politics; an observation that broadly stands for the influential British coal miners’ unions and, more specifically, for the miners of the Durham coalfield itself. The article's argument has both narrow and broad dimensions. Narrowly, it argues that the Follonsby banner has a strong claim to be regarded as the most revolutionary in Britain, albeit with “revolutionary” understood in certain theoretical and context-specific ways. The broader argument develops the claim that the iconography of the Follonsby banner is more significant for what the process of interrogating its “revolutionary” credentials reveals about the complexities of the political culture of the mainstream British Left in the twentieth century and after. In this broader respect, the Follonsby banner—iconography, birth, life, purgatory, and rebirth—is more important for its curious representatives rather than its individuated existence as an “extreme revolutionary” outlier.

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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc., 2021
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:30 November 2021
Date of first online publication:29 November 2021
Date first made open access:30 November 2021

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