Daily Herald front page in a still from the British Council Film "Each For All"
Each For All: Britain’s unions as the world saw them 60 years ago
The British Council has just completed a landmark project, digitising a series of over 100 films from the 30s and 40s that they made to show people around the world what life was like in Britain.
There’s one dedicated to British trade unions, as a central institution in national life. It’s called “Each For All” and it gives a great portrayal of the organisation and ethos of trade unionism in 1945.
It’s a testament to the strength of our values that much of it still rings true today, even if you’ll see a lot more white male faces, and a lot more cigarettes, around the 1945 negotiating table.
The film spends a long time discussing the processes of union organisation (much of which will still be familiar to most people who’ve been to a branch meeting recently), but it also explains the principles that motivated the movement then as now. As actor John Slater, playing a union member narrator for footage of real life trades unionists, nicely puts it:
“That is really what trade unionism is; an organised expression of the simple idea that together all people can better themselves. Each for all, and all for each is an old trade union slogan. And that is trade unionism’s contribution to world problems of today and tomorrow. Teaching that we must all share alike the dangers and the hardships. Teaching that we must meet our common difficulties together, so that we can all share in the good things that make life worth living.
We British trade unionists look ahead, beyond day to day matters to great and wide social changes. Our aim is not only to improve conditions for our own members, but to build a nobler and better world for all men.”
The films are released under Creative Commons licence on a special website, and worth checking out to see how the British government wanted our country to be seen. The British Council are running a competition too, for people to remix or reimagine the films for today. So if you’d like to have a go, visit their competition page – It might well be up to you, as I somehow can’t imagine our current government producing an update of this film to boast about what they see as the best of Britain today.