Ken Loach: Jeremy Corbyn represents a historical moment in the Labour Party
Tuesday 27th September 2016
CHARLOTTE HUGHES reports from a Q&A session on Ken Loach’s new film I, Daniel Blake in which the panel speaks on austerity, workers’ rights and the trade union movement
I, DANIEL BLAKE is a truly amazing film. It’s groundbreaking in much the same way that Ken Loach’s earlier film Cathy Come Home was.
It’s marking history in much the same way, highlighting issues that are at the moment running as an undercurrent in our society. It highlights poverty, desperation, discrimination and the demonising of the poor by this Tory government.
These are issues that myself and others see and deal with all the time and so it was a great surprise for me that Ken Loach and Paul Laverty decided to make a film about this subject.
The question and answer session at The World Transformed was held by David Johns, who plays Daniel Blake, Hayley Squires, who plays Katie, scriptwriter Paul Laverty and director Loach.
The first question they were asked was whether they thought there is an energy of hope now that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected again? Did they think that there is an injection of humanity returning to society, or did they think that it would take a lot more than Corbyn being elected?
Laverty said that he hoped so and that we could do with it. He remarked that upon doing the research for the film he found the phenomenon of foodbanks remarkable. He noted that years ago when making the 1998 film My Name is Joe, foodbanks didn’t exist.
Laverty was shocked when he heard people who rely on foodbanks say they faced a choice between either heating the house or eating. He spoke of the humility of mothers having to feed their children biscuits because they had no other food. It made his blood boil to see such suffering because all of this is a political decision and yet companies such as Apple don’t pay their taxes.
Loach praised the idea of having an arts festival alongside a political conference and congratulated Momentum for organising it. “The energy that Momentum has brought is just brilliant,” Loach said. “Young people bringing real commitment, real principles and determination to make things better. To expand the idea of what politics is is fantastic, and it shouldn’t be left to just the Westminster club. Politics should be for everyone.”
They were then asked what could and should we do to change society now?
Loach began his answer by explaining that we have to challenge the ideology at the heart of Tory policies.
“People are being treated with terrible inhumanity. What is fundamental to changing this is to understand why [the government] is doing this.
“They may not necessarily be bad people, although some might be, but the government does this to demonstrate to the poorest that their poverty is their own fault. If you are homeless you are inadequate. If you haven’t got a job you’re not trying hard enough. It’s endemic of the system, so in order to stop us from challenging the system they created the undeserving poor, which is a Victorian concept. Be aware of the structure so you can make changes.” Johns stated that we have to challenge the media rhetoric. “Instead of the constant headlines of scroungers which have made the working class fight against themselves,” he explained, “we should show positive stories to counteract this.” He added that the very wealthy should share with the poorest and advocate for a society that has compassion instead of hate.
The panel issued a statement of solidarity with the Brixton Ritzy cinema staff who went on strike demanding the living wage, holiday pay and maternity pay. Squires highlighted the importance of this and that everyone deserves a living wage. Loach called the strikers heroic and added that since Ritzy Picturehouse is owned by Cineworld they can easily afford to pay the living wage. “To pay starvation wages is absolutely shocking. Victory to the Ritzy workers.”
While researching for the film, Loach heard stories of kids suffering from malnutrition, which he described it as “institutionalised cruelty to children.”
Laverty told a particularly heart-breaking story of a man who had fallen and banged his head but refused to go in an ambulance because he was terrified of missing his appointment at the jobcentre the next day. The man made it to his appointment, but died a few weeks later.
“To make change,” Laverty said, “it will take more than nice letters to MPs. It’s going to take a people’s movement to shift the centre of power.” And he’s right.
The team also spoke with people employed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) before embarking on the film.
What they found was that most of the staff were scared of losing their jobs, desperate to stay in work and frightened of being in the same position as the claimants.
Of course, they found a few DWP workers who bought into the idea that the client sat in front of them was a scrounger, but by and large most were decent people who felt mortified by what they are forced to do.
Many have left the job due to the stress caused by the things they were told to put their clients through.
Those who left were quickly replaced with more compliant younger staff which were easier to convince not to join a union.
Laverty spoke of a rank and file PCS organiser working within the DWP. “He had never received a promotion and certainly no advancement in his work. It was the price that he paid for being a union organiser.”
The panel were asked if they would support a call for a general strike.
Loach replied: “A general strike is a major weapon that the organised working class have. If you make the call then it involves a lot of preparation.” He stated that the only time that we have had a general strike was in 1926.
All the unions went out, but were called back within a week. The Establishment were that keen to get them back to work that they were literally shovelled back.
Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party leader at the time, said that he wanted nothing to do with the strike and showed no support.
“You have to prepare, involve the whole labour movement and ensure that you have their support,” Loach said.
“But we have a unique moment right now. For the first time in Labour Party history, we have the leader of the Labour Party standing alongside striking workers. It’s extraordinary and an historical moment.
“Even Clement Attlee, who did wonderful things like create the welfare state, sent troops in to break strikes. He was on the right of the Labour Party and he had an appalling foreign policy.”
But even while we have this fantastic moment, we must be really careful not to mess this up. We’ve got to move carefully forward, one step at a time.
Loach has no doubts that the attacks against Corbyn won’t stop.
“If anything they might get worse. As the old American trade unionists used to say: ‘agitate, educate and organise,’ and that’s what we have to do.”