“How could I not respond to a solidarity request from workers who have been fired for fighting for their rights?”Ken Loach.
By Adrian Weir, Hornsey & Wood Green CLP.
The 2021 Turin Film Festival closes tomorrow so this is a good opportunity to appreciate an outstanding director of our age, Ken Loach.
We start with one of the plagues visited on the working class in the era of neo-liberalism – the advent of mass precarious work.
Prior to the last General Election 1 in 10 UK workers had precarious jobs – including in the so-called “gig” economy – that’s 3.2 million workers. Precarious jobs are jobs where the worker cannot be certain what work – and therefore what pay – they will get in the future.
At this time in the precarious sector:
· 1.5 million missed out on protection against unfair dismissal and the right to redundancy pay
· nearly half a million workers had no legal right to social security protections because of low pay
· zero hours workers earned £3.80 less an hour than the average employee
· casual workers got paid nearly 40% less an hour than the average worker
· self-employed workers had earnings 40% lower than those of employees, compared to 28% lower a decade previously.
The growth of the precarious sector has been hastened by employers contracting out what are often deemed as ancillary services – cleaning, catering, and security – although in the public sector it’s often core functions that are contracted out – for example, social care workers.
Often the contractor employer will have workers on zero hours or casual contracts marking a shift from a job with an open ended contract, perhaps pensionable, to work that is precarious and totally at the whim of the employer and almost certainly with no occupational pension.
In the not so recent past who would have imagined that university teachers in the UK would be on strike over increased casualisation and an attack on occupational pensions? Precarious work extends its tentacles into higher education!
Most galling is that the primary employer usually washes their hands of contracted out workers; they now work for another company so are nothing to do with us is the usual refrain.
Precarity at work drives down wages and therefore working class living standards and is storing problems for the future by squeezing occupational pensions.
Of course this is not a uniquely British phenomenon. In 2019, 2.3% of employees in the European Union aged 20-64 had a precarious job, meaning that their work contract did not exceed three months’ duration.
In Italy, levels of part-time work have doubled in the past decade; levels of involuntary part-time working are twice the EU average and there has been a significant increase (15.0 %) in involuntary part-time work since the financial crisis – 2007-2011; levels of freelance activity are higher than the EU average; and, rates of transition from temporary to permanent contracts are below 20 %. In addition Italian employers, as in the UK, have been contracting out so-called ancillary or periphery functions.
Which brings us to the Turin Film Festival of 2012 and Ken Loach.
This prestigious event in the world of cinematography is organised by the National Cinema Museum in Italy which had outsourced its cleaning and security services. Faced with the usual features of outsourcing – wages had been cut, workers reported bullying and mistreatment and several people had been fired – the workers struck.
Ken Loach was to receive a lifetime achievement award at the 2012 Festival but declined to accept the honour.
In declining the award Loach made specific reference to “the issue of the externalisation of services carried out by workers on the lowest wages … The fact that this happens all over Europe does not make this practice acceptable … it is not right that the poorest people have to pay a price for an economic crisis that they are not responsible for.”
He also said: “I would expect the Museum, in this case, to have a dialogue with workers and their unions, to ensure re-recruitment of fired workers and rethink its own outsourcing policy.”
In conclusion Ken Loach pointed out: “We made a film dedicated to this very topic Bread and Roses. How could I not respond to a solidarity request from workers who have been fired for fighting for their rights? For this reason, although with great sadness, I find myself forced to refuse the prize.”
So we now have the paradoxical situation of one of Britain’s leading intellectuals, clearly on the political left, who has recently resigned from the Labour Party (perhaps jumping before he was pushed) making a stand in 2012, at some loss of personal prestige, for workers who, had they been in the UK, we would hope would be natural Labour voters.
- Adrian Weir is TULO (Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation) Officer at Hornsey & Wood Green CLP and a member of Labour’s Joint Policy Committee/National Policy Forum.