Union Place started in 1974, were based in Vassall Road, Lambeth, south London and had offset litho (A3 and A4 and later A2), screen printing and 35mm darkroom facilities.
From their entry in 'Printing is Easy…? (1986): 'Since community printshops developed in the seventies, the political conditions in England have changed. Too many struggles have been lost to prevent a mood of depression undermining the hope of beneficial change which developed in the sixties. This mood of pessimism is daily re-inforced by the mass-media.
Community politics has proved to be inadequate for its role of mediating between local grassroots groups and the abstract but no less effective social forces set in motion by the capitalist system. Community politics has proved to be useless either in defending various communities from these forces, or in pacifying those communities in the interests of capitalism. Hence the current 'reforms' being planned to streamline state-funding of community groups. In future community groups will be more constrained to represent the interests of central power, to act as transmission-belts conveying Whitehall's latest proposal as to how we should live down at street level.
For printshops this creates a tension between knocking out cheap jobs for people with fuck all money amd a lot to say, and churning out the turgid work of community artists who seek to gain some authenticity by latching on to some bureaucratic scheme to sponsor the representation of the dispossessed. Self-expression only has a value in itself for those with nothing worth expressing.(…)
The history of our struggles to maintain some grip on our destiny is littered with tools we have developed to further that struggle being snatched from us by the powerful, and added to their arsenal of oppression. Community printshops were developed simply as a means to communicate and organise our response to oppression. They proliferated in the agitation during the English civil war. they were suppressed as Cromwell consolidated power. Over a century later Daniel Eaton was thrown in jail for publishing a cheap edition of Thomas Paine's 'The Age of Reason'. In the nineteenth century the state imposed a stamp duty on periodicals to price radical publications out of the pockets of the labouring classes. Thomas Carlisle was continually prosecuted for flouting censorship laws. In a period when illiteracy was widespread and we did not have the curse of state education, papers were read in public, and many workers set aside a few pence to pay for readers in the workshops. Literacy developed not from ruling class philanthropy but from a working class educating itself through its own radicalism.
…The 'ignoble' pamphleteers who saw nothing special about telling the truth, who requested no privileges from their ability, whose ambition was content with an end to oppression, have been erased from the history books. its not a matter of digging up some new heroes and heroines from the depths of the British museum to incorporate in the dream of a liberal England. We merely have to continue their struggle against oppression.
This is the history of community presses. They didn't spring up suddenly in the nineteen-seventies as a way of providing philanthropic artists with a steady income.(…) Out first task is a clear consciousness of how our activity ids diffused by an oppressive culture which hides its brutality behind the manipulation of language and image. We may not have the savage censorship of South Africa or the Soviet Union, but then they are not subject to the same continual graphic bombardment of advertising hoardings or the inane chatter of breakfast TV where the latest death toll of apartheid loses significance amongst a discussion of the latest fashion in clothing or music. they are silenced. We are deafened by the clatter of an industrial machine that tosses out cultural attitudes to regulate our lives.
Knowledge has been subjected to the industrial production techniques. It exists as isolated fragments passing through our experience. a worker in a factory can spend a lifetime producing a crucial yet insignificant part of a machine. They may never know what that part does or how the machine works. It is irrelevant to their function as a worker. At the same time we exist in a mechanised culture that serves to perpetuate alienation and oppression. It is geared to preserving the domination of capital (the dead activity of previous generations up to and including our own) over our lives (our current activity). We can act out roles, produce artefacts, that embody the very values that oppress us. Or we can subvert these values.
Community printshops do not have a special duty here. we are not a privileged elite that can suddenly emerge from the morass with a superior consciousness. the problems we face only take on a different form from those of other people, eg; parents raising kids, hospital staff caring for patients, miners digging coal or lovers digging each other. Sometimes we are these 'other' people. But seizing control of our destinies requires understanding what our activity is. And that understanding will be impossible if our destiny remains an abstract ideal continually elaborate in texts rather than embodied in activity. which is as far as this text can go!' Union Place. 1986
The right wing Tory MP for Streatham, Lambeth, William Shelton (1929-2003)referred to Union Place in various All Commons Debates as part of his attack on the “loony lefty” policies of Lambeth Council. Details of the speeches in context can be found on the government site: http://www.theyworkforyou.com
2 November 1979: Lambeth council is a waster of money. This year it is giving £500,000 in grants, which is a 30 per cent. increase on last year. There has been much publicity about the now notorious Union Place resources centre which has aided various groups. The list is long. The groups that it has helped include the Right to Work Campaign, Librarians Against the Cuts, Vegetarians against Nazism, the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Police, the Red Poster Collective and Under-Fives Against Nazism. The list is straight from “Peter Simple”. It is extraordinary. If any hon. Member wishes, I shall escort him round the centre.
2 May 1980: The rates are merely the symptom of the problem in Lambeth. The cause is that costs in Lambeth are out of control. I am not talking about cuts, because there have not been any cuts in Lambeth. I am talking about bad housekeeping and about inefficiency. I am talking about ideological spending. I am talking about the complete irrelevance of need in the borough. I am talking, as I said, about gross inefficiency—Marxism in action. I am talking about the Lambeth loonies who are running the council.(…) We have dances and carnivals on the rates. We have grants to fringe Left-wing groups. The Union Place Resource Centre continues unabated—its march—led, no doubt, by the “ Under Fives Against Fascism ” and “ Rock Against Thatcher ” groups—not inventions of Peter Simple but happening in our constituency.
28 April 1981: I wonder whether the House knows that £62,000 of ratepayers' and, ironically, taxpayers' money through the inner city partnership scheme goes to the Union Place resource centre, which is for the use of the community. A list of organisations sponsored by the ratepayer and taxpayer through the Labour-controlled Lambeth council reads as though they had escaped from the pages from Peter Simple. Examples are Red Therapy, Gay Teachers,—hon. Gentlemen will find leaflets and posters at the centre for these interesting and bizarre organisations—Rock Against Sexism, Advisory Service for Squatters and the Brixton Ad-Hoc Committee Against Police Repression. At least the last, in my use of language, would be an organisation directed to subverting the society in which we live. I draw the attention of the Opposition to the £18,000 of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money that goes to the collective bookshop funded through Lambeth council, which provides information on the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, the Communist Party, and many of the same ilk. (Peter Simple appears each time…)
- Kenna, Carol; Medcalf,Lyn; Walker, Rick. (1986) Printing is Easy…? Community Printshops 1970-1986 Greenwich Mural Workshop pp22-23