Interview: Picking Up The Peaces
Unions: The Royal Con
National Focus: Around the Grounds
Economics: The Secret War on Trade
International: United Front
History: Confessions of a Badge Collector
Politics: Stalin’s Legacy
Review: Such Was Not Ned’s Life
Poetry: Osama's Top Recruiter
Satire: Woolworths CEO Denied Bonus After Company Posts Profit
The Locker Room
The Fog of War
Trots Bomb Back
Confessions of a Badge Collector
Bill's enthusiasm for badges began when he was an apprentice at Dundee shipyards. Union members had their union badges in their tool boxes and wore them on May Day union demos or union funerals. Also working in the docks I noticed the use of badges for work preference and the like. This started my interest in union use of badges and I found out later how important and varied use for badges had been.
"The workers noticed the elaborate boardroom and bosses memorabilia and decided that they should be able to have their own space. They "bargained" for a shop stewards shed and then began displaying union badges around the walls. There were at least 15 unions on site (notorious for demarcation rivalries) so it was a very diplomatic process in organising the display. Later on I became the de facto keeper of the badges and they more or less became mine with the decline of the shipyards."
Collecting on Shows
"The musical shows I am involved in offer special opportunities for collecting. On arrival I look around for union activity. Where that is happening then I can approach individuals for badges. Stage Hands can be a good source for badges since the personnel may be from mixed unions' backgrounds. In the UK for example a show may have to employ many casual stage hands and among these will be off-duty firemen who are committed unionists.
As the Production Manager, or Stage Manager I harass everyone for badges in or out of work! I negotiate for access to the show's 'runner' who is employed to take and bring things and obviously knows the city well, and can therefore help in locating the sources of badges. Might be a small shop someone knows that sell badges or getting badges from the homes of the show's personnel.
In the USA I would make connections with other collectors when I go there to set up musical events. In the UK there is an organisation of badge collectors and it also produces a newsletter.
The Waterside workers have been very good to me. I would take some of their badges back to the UK and give to the Transport & General Workers Union (TGWU) and through correspondence keep in touch with friends in both unions."
Special Occasion Badges
"There are always special occasions in the lives of union organisations. In the 19th century the 8-hour day was celebrated from the 1850s onwards. Eight Hours Work, Eight Hours Recreation & Eight Hours Rest.. As more unions won the shorter working day and commissioned badges to celebrate the occasions, the greater the challenge to badge makers in varying the juxtaposition of the three '8s'. The collection has a few examples of 19th century badges on the shorter working day and week. Then there are badges for the 40 hour week and the 35 hour week in the 20th century. Now of course here we are in the position of extending the working day and week without necessarily more pay.
Many unions produce Conference badges. Most UK unions would do so. These may be in one, two or three yearly intervals, marking the unions' Conferences. Some unions produce somewhat economical Conference badges. The design doesn't change, only the dates of the Conferences. I tend not to collect those types of badges, but you keep an eye out for those union badges because from time to time they may change the design.
Unions used to have Fattorini a Birmingham-based badge manufacturer make most of the unions' badges. The company, an old one was not a union shop. But Badges Plus was a pro-union manufacturer and that too was based in Birmingham. Most unions now use that company. Another jewellery manufacturer, Bravington once a high class jewellery maker, made the badges of the Agricultural Workers Union simply because its headquarters was nearby. Both union and jeweller no longer exist. The badges themselves are made from various materials such as paper, brass, silver, and even gold. The more popular material is brass.
The limited sources for badges mean bartering is an important facet of building up a collection. Acquiring single badges from individual unions is the basic way of collecting. Luckier still is when the bartering yields multiple copies of the badges because the copies can be used to barter without depleting the stock of original images.
Unions tend to sell badges at cost price in order to make the claim that the badge is still the property of the union. And many unions will not give their badge to a non-member. In Australia the NSW Branch of the National Union of Workers is one such union.
The serious collector can go to extreme lengths if there are possibilities to add to the collection. Being in the right place at the right time is all important. I have seen lapel badges gently removed from drunken delegates in toilets.
A union collector friend of mine invited me to a TUC Conference dinner. "It would be a better opportunity for you to collect some badges at the dinner rather than on the floor of the Conference."
I was hesitant and apart from being a vegetarian this was a dinner only for the invited.
"Never mind!" he said. "I have already secured you the place of a delegate who had to go back early to Spain. And there will be a vegetarian meal."
I put on the name tag without looking at it. As I sat down I became conscious of delegates at that section of the table taking sidelong glances at me. I wondered what my friend had been telling the other delegates about me. I then looked down my jacket and discovered why. I was Senores Marquez. I never did succeed in getting any badges that night. Maybe there are limits to being in the right place at the right time.
Some badges are found in surprising places. I knew a woman whose Catholic family included a priest. When he died she was sorting out his belongings and among the various religious medals was a TGWU quarterly badge. I guess this wasn't so surprising since his diocese was around the docks a predominantly working class area. Another possible source for badges is among military medals. It's not unusual to find in the disposal of some soldier's belongings old union badges from that soldier's time as a unionist. Markets are of course well known places for badges. I have found badges in our neighbourhood market and those in Balmain, Rozelle and Glebe. I haven't explored the Internet but that should be a logical area for badge bartering.
Badge variety can be a result of union structures. In Australia for example a national union may strike one badge and distribute it to the union's branches. In the USA however a large union is more likely to have different badges for the branches at the local levels. An American collector could specialise in just collecting one major union's badges and maintain variety in the collection.
The earliest badges in the collection date from the 1800s. The Australian ones are on the 8-hour day theme. The UK badges date from the 1890s. One of the difficulties with many badges is there are no dates but some have registration numbers which help to date them. Normally badges are stamped with the member's number and the number of the branch. You can locate the branch from its number. Where the badges are commemorating some major event, or the union's inauguration you may not have too many difficulties but this isn't so with many badges.
The collection isn't confined to the UK, Australia and the USA. I am lucky in that my work takes me to a wider range of countries from which I collect. Some countries I am unlikely to get to. But then there is the normal network system. I have a friend whose hobby is fishing and he regularly goes to Burma and India, and collects badges for me. The Burmese badges are from the period of the British rule. The collection also includes badges from Japan, Iceland and several European countries.
Apart from membership badges unions will create badges to commemorate significant events such as strikes. In the UK selection there are several badges marking disputes. The Slate Workers Union was a division of the TGWU. When the slate workers went on strike they made badges from slate which kept the strikers occupied and helped raise funds for the strike.
While other unions didn't produce badges from the material they worked in the custom of having badges to mark significant strikes was not unusual. The UK miners in the big strike of 84-85 were prolific producers of badges as a way of raising finance. Many miners weren't altogether happy with this because they felt other unionists should have been more supportive of the strike through action and not just the purchase of badges. In that same miners strike the Nottingham branch of the union voted to discontinue the strike and to form their own union - the Union of Democratic Miners (UDM). This was a very divisive issue. The branch did commission badges but many unionists collectors wouldn't have those badges in their collection Sometimes badges might be struck in different colours. One colour would be for the strikers only and another colour badge sold to raise money for the strikers.
Anther example of strike badges is from Timex. This company's European base was in my hometown, Dundee. The workers of Timex went on strike and for that occasion produced three badges. One was for the strikers only and the other two were for funds. A further example is that of the engineering company, Gardiners. Their badge shows a front elevation of an engine. Badges may urge some form of action as in the case of the ACTT, the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Trades badge asking television viewers to, Turn off TV a m, which was the first commercial breakfast program in the UK. The company wanted to smash the union in what turned out to be a long and protracted dispute. The union lost not only the dispute but also the closed shop status.
Badges are also commissioned for amalgamations and an example in the collection is the National Association of Theatre Employees. Each amalgamation of the unions making up the national body was the occasion for a badge. The Amalgamated Musicians' Union was a 1922 creation and a badge was struck for the Executive members only. Another amalgamating badge is of the plumbers and electricians which also shows the members' length of service. It shows EETPU and 20, 30, 40 & 50 years membership. Then there is the anniversary badge. The Bakers Union's 150th anniversary badge is a striking turquoise badge.
A major category of badges is the work badge. In periods of hostility to unions wearing this badge can be an act of courage. It is also a badge indicating financial membership. In closed shops the absence of a badge would mean the worker not being permitted to start work.
Other categories of badges are for sporting and recreational activities. The collection has a badge struck for a very traditional sporting activity, the tug-of war. The other badge is from the Workers Travelling Association an organisation run by the Trade Unions Congress offering cheap holidays for unionists and their families.
A distinct badge here is a National Union of Miners one with a miniature Davies lamp hanging off it. A more common miner's badge is the sew-on type which is part of the employment terms. A miner would not be able to go down the mine without such a badge. In some dock areas the unions had a two-level accreditation badge system. A first preference unionist would be offered the job first and the second preference unionists had to wait until all first preference unionists refused the work.
Badges commemorating strikes are not uncommon. A strike can generate a number of badges depending not only on the severity of the strike but also the number of the union Branches involved, each issuing their own badge.
Given the opportunities for working in different countries I am in an ideal position to collect badges. Badge collection has led me to take an interest in other areas associated with trade unions, including literature and memorabilia such as scrolls, pennants and old photos. I can see myself in the future expanding collections in those areas.
Bill is a Stage or Production Manager of musical shows. He organises the Load in of the show i.e. the technical side of the show, then the Load out.
A selection of Bill's badges will be on display when the Labor Council of NSW and TAFE - Sydney Institute of Technology will be hold a joint exhibition - WHEN WORKERS UNITE - at the MUSE Gallery on the Ultimo College of TAFE campus from the 31 March to 12 April 2003.
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