A special showing of Ken Loach’s classic 1969 film Kes in central London on May Day will be hosted by the director. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the significance of May Day, the state of the trade union movement and the film’s enduring power.
This year May Day will see hundreds of thousands of civil service workers in the PCS union take strike action – and a host of other activities by workers up and down the country.
Ken Loach welcomes this return of a tradition of workers’ militancy on May Day. “It’s important to have one day that’s set aside as a labour day – where people can be made aware of the need to be organised,” he says.
“Mark Serwotka, the PCS general secretary, represents a very progressive leadership in the trade union movement. People like him are standing for the independent interests of working people, rather than the disastrous ‘realism’ adopted by union leaders in the 1980s.”
But Ken underlines that the civil service workers must not stand alone. “They need support from other unions. A big mistake of the 1980s was that groups of workers ended up fighting on their own. What we must do now is to link all the battles.”
Rebuilding the confidence of workers in their collective power is the crucial task facing the labour movement, he adds.
“The problem for decades has been defeats breeding resignation. Workers need to generate a sense of strength and the justice they’re claiming.”
Artists and media workers have a role to play in inspiring this sense of justice, says Ken. “We can produce work that shows the reasons the world is the way it is and provide a context for individual struggles.”
But he acknowledges that the rise of corporate values in the media and the bloated management structures that go with it are a barrier to this radical vision of the arts.
“The commissioning process is much more controlled and managed now compared to when I started working. We’ve seen the growth of executive producers, commissioning editors – and layers of bureaucracy sitting on top of that.”
Nevertheless, Ken is pleased that new audiences are rediscovering his early films such as Kes – especially since his Cannes award last year for The Wind That Shakes The Barley.
“The fact that Kes has lasted is, if anything, a testament to Barry Hines’s writing and the actor David Bradley’s presence in the film. Barry’s book lighted on a character and an image of a boy with a kestrel that was simple but eloquent – and it touched a lot of people.”