Craig Oldham: In Loving Memory Of Work, Pt1.

Craig Oldham: In Loving Memory Of Work, Pt1.

Politics and design have sometimes been uncomfortable bedfellows, but there are exceptions – and few more successful than protest graphics borne of political struggle. With all that is currently happening in the UK (where many of the FFF team are based) we decided it was high-time we take a proper look at ‘In Loving Memory Of Work‘, a book lovingly designed and published by Craig Oldham, Creative Director (and Founder, obviously) of ‘Office of Craig‘.

‘In Loving Memory Of Work’ focuses on the visual output from the minors strike of 1984-1985, a subject Craig is hugely passionate about. Today we bring you his unique insight into some of the most arresting and powerful images contained within the book. Later this week we’ll share Pt2, a comprehensive interview about the book and its design.

Craig explains…

Due to my strong personal convictions I wish to state that although we have hereafter singled-out a selection of images from this particular struggle for the purposes of examination from a design perspective, these images are ultimately born of their struggle and are an inseparable part of it.

It would be wrong to treat them as commodities; yet another addition to the graphic sweetie shop from bygone days. This struggle, from not only my personal point of view but also the opinion of many more, still continues, and the purpose of this article, and indeed the book, is to induce new levels of interest and action, culturally, socially, and politically.

The aim is to communicate however much as possible of the miners’ struggle in the hope that the power of their work will introduce the topic to those who may not be familiar, or refresh the minds those who are aware but have maybe relapsed, in order to continue the fight and to continue to raise awareness.

 

Test Dept. Shoulder To Shoulder LP, sleeve design by Paul White

Perhaps the most impactful cover art to come from the strike is the collaboration between Test Dept. and the South Wales Striking Miners Choir with their 1984 LP, Shoulder To Shoulder. Certainly my fave anyway.

A constructivist aesthetic merged with a mix of imagery, mainly brutal policing of the strike, and the recording sessions, and a contrast of industrial typesetting and crude scrawl (on the reverse) makes for a powerful effect. The striking “Fuel To Fight” repeated graphic depicts the miners’ fight in distinct graphic marks; an Atlas figure struggles under weight in dramatic pose, whilst the pit head and tools of toil, married to proclamations like “Support The Miners” and “Our Work With Hammers” complete the powerful graphics.

Test Dept. were, for lack of a better term, an avant-garde industrial percussionist group, often using industrial materials (hence the hammers) to create their music which embodies a rebellious punk attitude with a musical complexity. As a result, for me, this cover perfectly represents both the group and the miners ideologically (especially in South Wales where there was a heightened socialist and community belonging than in many other mining communities).

This graphic was also modified and used to promote the benefit gigs as TD and SWSMC performed throughout the country to raise money and awareness (a documentary film is coming out this year focussing on Test Dept. and touches on their support for the miners: see http://www.testdeptds30.co.uk/) with all profits going to support the strike.

On a personal note this record also means a lot to me as after attending the launch of In Loving Memory of Work, my good mate Michael Place (Build) sent me his copy of the record “…from one Yorkshireman to another,” who, I must assume, bought it to support the cause and shared it with me.

[Artwork © Paul White / Private Collection]

National Union of Mineworkers Ferrymoor Riddings branch banner, by unknown artist.

Since the earliest groups and societies were formed there has always been a desire to make a distinct emblem or symbol of their identity, meaning and purpose. Mirroring the rapid expansion of industrial society in 18th century Britain, the trade union movement chose the banner as their preferred vehicle.

The trade union banners of the coalfields, from the National Union of Mineworkers, in their elaborate pattern of themes and fables, history and politics, are some of the most famous and revered trade union banners and are synonymous with the entire movement; even the late Tony Benn MP used to have one in his office.

Often double-sided, and genrally painted directly onto fabric (predominantly silk) by members of the local branch considered to be artistic, early banners were flooded with classical artistic tradition, ranging from figures of gods and personification to architectural motifs and Latin mottos, but the banner for the Ferrymoor Riddings Colliery was quite different.

This banner depicted the modern industry on its front: a miner’s lamp sat gloriously atop a mile-high mound of coal, the modern architecture of the colliery framing the stacks before leading the eye underground where the Yorkshire white rose and colliery’s badge were set. The imagery is distinct, but the most interesting thing about the banner is its typography. Above this vista, the branch title is skewed in a futurist font, almost digital in aesthetics and fits with the contemporary depiction (view here) Another interesting thing about this banner in particular is that the rear is probably more famous than the front. The banner reverse displays the solitary verse “Our reward in society should never be less than the sweat and blood we have to leave on every lump of coal” in the distinct letterforms, hand-cut and sewn into the banner fabric. Set in countering lines, it creates an uneasy but effective tension on the reading of the verse. The sentiment echoes the words of miner and prominent activist Dave Douglass, who said: “Miners have a hard job, they have to fight the earth for a living”. [Source: BFI, 1984].

The banner inspired our second bespoke font for In Loving Memory of Work (after Liaison) Ferrymoor. Whilst, in today’s context, the font appears to have an almost digital aesthetic and structure, the banner was created in the 1970s and has been on picket lines ever since until the colliery was merged with Selby after the strike. Taking inspiration from the verse, the font has been developed as an uppercase and small-cap display face and incorporated contemporary hairline glyphs to complement Liaison.

The fonts are available now with proceeds going to the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

‘Victory to the Miners’ by Paul Morton for Leeds Postcards

This image is part of a series of fundraising postcards designed by Barnsley-born designer Paul Morton. This official Downing Street portrait of Margaret Thatcher, bastardised with a sprayed ‘V’ for “Victory” (to the miners, of course), was an early example of the immediacy and graphic agitation later adopted and echoed by numerous political, groundswell graphic campaigns. It was also representative of the marks being made by the miners themselves, proclaiming and spraying messages on walls around their communities. I’m yet to ask Paul about the source of the Thatcher image, but I hope the story is somewhat similar to the See Red Women’s Workshop in their poster “Tough”. They wrote to Downing Street pretending to be fans of the Prime Minister and once the image was sent back to them, they set to work with their real intentions.

[Artwork © Paul Morton / Private Collection]

The ‘Maggie Note’ by Paul Morton for Barnsley Women Against Pit Closures

Many have used the visual language of money to make a graphic point*, but this monetary skit, again by designer Paul Morton, was a graphic precursor to many; such as those from the Wapping dispute (attacking Murdoch’s savage removal of staff) or Banksy’s Princess Di tenners. Whilst the primary communication of the note is to inform of the brutal deductions, restrictions, and exemptions enforced by Thatcher on the benefits system to striking miners and their families, it served another more combative purpose which I think is a stroke of genius. During the strike, the conduct of our elected officials and those in power was questionable and one of its main points,  but also, unquestionably, was the role, conduct and behaviour of the police. And not only for the manner of policing at Orgreave but on all picket lines throughout the dispute. Police, on hugely inflated pay-packets and overtime, used to taunt the practically starving striking miners by waving their money notes at them. And this little leaflet finally gave the miners something to retaliate with.

[Artwork © Paul White / Private Collection]

*Go see the great exhibition on the subject, Show Me The Money, at the People’s History Museum in Manchester now:

Leslie Boulton at Orgreave by John Harris

This is arguably the strike’s most iconic and infamous image. Photographer and Women Against Pit Closures member Lesley Boulton is about to be struck by an advancing riot police officer on horseback, charging with his cries of “I’ll have you too, you bitch”. Luckily, as you see just in frame at the bottom left of the image, Lesley was pulled out of harms way just in time as the police baton narrowly missed her head. Taken by social reportage photographer John Harris, this image became the evidence and testament for the miners, that everything they had been reporting to have happened on the pickets, was happening; and here’s the picture to prove it. That spirit continues in the fight for justice today. After events at Orgreave, 95 miners were arrested, beaten, and charged with inflated counts of unlawful assembly and riot (the latter hadn’t been deployed by the policing system for many, many years at the time). Although, in court, the police evidence was found insufficient and showed glaring signs of collusion, not one commanding or active officer was charged with misconduct or even disciplined. 31 years later that fight for justice for the beaten and victimised miners continues. Earlier this month, the IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) announced that they would not be investigating police conduct at Orgreave, despite admitting collusion, misuse of force, and evidence of cover-up, to name but a few, and the OTJC (Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign) stood in-front of the image, proudly emblazoned on their banner and announced their calls for an full public enquiry into the events.

I was honoured to be invited by the campaign to speak at their 31st anniversary rally in Orgreave. Besides many miners who were there at the time I didn’t (obviously) relay my memories of the events, but I spoke of my father’s. I spoke of my anger at the decision which to me did nothing but send out the message that retirement apparently excludes one from criminality; that the truth is seemingly not in the public interest; and how can the police—a fundamental public service—be used as a political tool by those in power to exert and action their will? It’s not simply a matter of interest for those people of that time, it’s relevant today as no one wants that to happen to anyone ever again.

[Image © reportdigital.co.uk / John Harris / Poster from the collection of Darren Coffield]

The Clash at Brixton Academy, Arthur Skargill’s (sic) Christmas Party poster. Designer unknown.

There’s not really much I can say about this poster, other than that I love it. The colours, its spunk, the typography, it just all works. Of course The Clash were politically aligned with the miners in their struggle, combine that with any anti-authoritarian feelings and it seems inevitable that the band would lend their support. In 1984 when the two gigs were performed, Brixton Academy was little known and not the venue it is today. Bands like The Clash and the success drawn from gigs like ‘Arthur Skargill’s Christmas Party’ were crucial in getting people to the venue and making it the success it now is seen as. The benefit gig raised lots of money for the cause, but so did many of the other musicians and artist who also performed benefit gigs, such as The Pogues, Billy Bragg, Paul Weller… even Bruce Springsteen, albeit after the strike, donated ten thousand dollars to the Durham Miners’ Wives in solidarity.

[Artwork © Unknown / Private Collection]

‘Hangman’ “We won’t forget the scabs” by Charlie Cibour, in the village of Armthorpe near Doncaster.

Due to its illegality, the practice of graffiti has generally been favoured by many groups excluded from the political mainstream and is often one of the most deployed tools for subcultures raging against authority (just have a look at what’s happening in Greece now). As the strike was really a class war, the miners and their supporters rarely had the resource for traditional communication (such as buying advertising) especially in the 80’s where Thatcher’s mates controlled the mainstream press in the majority, systematically excluding any alternative point of view. So it’s pretty unsurprising that they often took to using graffiti to communicate their views.

Official buildings and structures, streets and communities, all were daubed and sprayed with messages and rallying cries for the cause, illustrating their vehemence and providing visual testament to their beliefs. Whilst they may not be as romantically revolutionary as the graffiti of the protesting French students in Paris ’68, or as surreal as the Orange Alternative’s dwarves painted throughout Poland the 80’s, they certainly embody and express a rebellious spirit tempered with a great deal of verbal wit and humour that were characteristic of the striking miner.

By the very nature of the medium they are creatively crude, but they’re also raw in other senses of the word, and this one perhaps more than many. Here, we see striking miner, Charlie Cibour, leading the march back to work after the strike in Armthorpe near Doncaster, Yorkshire. The miners of Armthorpe went back to work later than any other pit in Yorkshire and their militancy is vividly illustrated in this infamous graffitied pledge. I met Charlie by chance at a rally in Orgreave in 2014 and had no idea he authored this work until I came across this image and spoke to him again, recognising his face. He said that he didn’t feel solely responsible for the piece despite him writing and painting it, more a shared responsibility with the 50-or-so lads behind him egging him on. He also sees this image in particular with another sense of paradox. On the march back to work he was extended the honour to lead the march and hold the banner… and proud moment marred, for him, by the reality that 7 of his comrades were sacked during the strike and were not allowed to pass through the gates into work ever again. Charlie too was later victimised by the NCB, for striking he was made an example of and banned from all NCB property for ten years. He would never work at the pit again. A fate many mining families were subjected to for simply standing up for their right to work, and to support their union.

[Image © Björn Rantil]

 

In Loving Memory of Work: A visual record of the UK miners’ strike 1984-85 by Craig Oldham is available now, published by Unified Theory of Everything.

Luke Tonge