Socialist Worker

Ken Loach's Navigators find the rail wreckers

by Tom Machell
Issue No. 1777

Rail privatisation gets the Ken Loach treatment with the TV showing of The Navigators on Sunday 2 December. Rob Dawber, socialist and ex rail worker, wrote the film. It follows the fortunes of a group of track workers as the privatisation of British Rail takes effect.

The new company's mission statement initially seems like a joke, but before long the choice is clear to the track gang-take their chances with redundancy cash and life as casual agency workers or work for the new company. The film uses a combination of humour and hard-hitting drama to expose the impact of privatisation on both the rail workers and the track. Safety is ultimately sacrificed on the altar of profit.

Rob, who worked for British Rail for 18 years, wrote the film 'largely out of frustration' as he saw safety conditions deteriorate and the depot he worked in 'down to the last six who refused redundancy'. During the film's production Rob was diagnosed with a cancer contracted while working on the railway.

An internal management memorandum revealed that it was 'too expensive' to protect workers such as Rob from asbestos, and the RMT union successfully sued British Rail in court. Rob died in February, although he did see the final cut of the film. Ken Loach's record as a film director is unparalleled.

Two of Loach's recent films, Bread and Roses, which tackled the exploitation and struggle for unionisation of Latino migrants in California, and Land and Freedom, which explored the Spanish Revolution of 1936, were political masterpieces.

Loach has put forward a body of films that argue the case for human emancipation and socialism. Don't miss The Navigators.

The Navigators is on Channel 4 on Sunday at 10pm.

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Article information

Sat 1 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1777
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