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Interview: Politics and inspiration

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Issue 1678


Politics and inspiration

LEFT WING film maker Ken Loach’s new movie Bread and Roses is due to be released this spring. His previous films include the brilliant Land and Freedom, about the Spanish Civil War, and the pathbreaking Cathy Come Home. Ken talked to Martin Smith about films, socialism and his hopes for the millennium.

WHAT IS your new film about?

Bread and Roses is about a group of low paid immigrant workers in Los Angeles fighting for union recognition. The film’s scriptwriter, Paul Laverty, spent a year in the city in the early 1990s. He got involved in the workers’ “Justice for Janitors” campaign. What attracted me to the story was that it subverted the traditional view of Hollywood and Los Angeles. I liked the idea of showing workers fighting back in the heart of the beast.

The mainly Hispanic workers created an organisation that broke away from traditional methods of union organisation. Their campaign was more community based. They organised immigrant workers, which was not easy because for many of them English was not their first language. Many of those involved in the dispute were very vulnerable because they were “illegal immigrants”. Yet they managed to win.

DO YOU think that things are beginning to change in favour of the working class?

The protest in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation was amazing. I think it’s been coming for a long time. We saw the first signs of this when the Liverpool dockers were joined in their dispute by the environmental protest group Reclaim the Streets. At first many of the dockers who came from a more traditional trade union background were sceptical about all these young people getting involved in their strike. But by the end they had their breath taken away by those guys.

These new forms of demonstrations and protests do connect with young people. Many of them did not grow up with the old industrial working class. I think it’s good to find new slogans, but you also need to hang on to a socialist analysis of how the world works. If you don’t know how the system works you’ll never change it.

WHAT DO you think of Tony Blair?

What can we say about him in a family newspaper? Your paper has said it all. Everything follows from Blair’s election. He was placed in power by business and he is now leading the party of business. Blair likes to think the Labour Party belongs to him. I don’t believe it does. I think Blair and his supporters are a cancerous growth on the party. Already we are seeing Labour’s London mayoral election campaign turning into a farce.

That said, the Labour Party is never monolithic- it is always dynamic, turbulent and volatile. The campaign to get Ken Livingstone elected shows that Blair can’t just get his own way. In some ways it would be useful to be in the Labour Party right now. It could help Ken Livingstone get elected. I left the Labour Party some years ago. For me it was just too much to stomach. Maybe it would have been better to have stayed in and given the Blairite faction a hard time.

YOU STARTED your career making powerful, hard-hitting TV dramas and documentaries. What do you think of TV today?

The economic restraints put on TV programme makers are destroying the medium. The proliferation of TV channels has not improved the quality of programme making. In fact it has made things worse. Channel 4 used to have a policy that programme makers had to respect trade union agreements. But as part of the Thatcher/Tory settlement that all went. You no longer have skilled camera crews, sound engineers and technicians involved in making documentaries. The result is cheap and tacky television.

Good programmes are still being made, but sadly they are few and far between. My old friend Tony Garnett is still making good TV. His series The Cops, which is shown on BBC 2, is a dynamic and hard hitting series.

WHAT ARE your hopes for the new millennium?

Promotion for Bath City football club of course! And a few political victories wouldn’t go amiss either.

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