Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch
salt of the earth
The Salt of the Earth(Home). A documentary about my favourite photographer Sebastião Salgado. I have always been fascinated by his black and white photos and by the deep humanity that is expressed through them. Over forty years he has spent time in many continents photographing some of the worst aspects of humankind including war, poverty, exploitation and famine. In this documentary we find out more about the man and the close working relationship he has with his wife and business partner, Lélia Wanick. I would have liked to find out more about her and how they juggled having two children, one of them disabled, alongside pursuing their photographic projects. Highly recommended.

Support
the big ride
The Big Ride a fundraiser for medical aid for children; the Middle Eastern Children’s Alliance. The ride is from Edinburgh to London, arriving at Parliament on 9 August. There are eight cyclists from Manchester taking part and one of them is Jill Woodward. You can donate by going to The Big Ride Palestine see

Find
bicycle

out about the growing popularity of cycling in this film being shown by the Manchester Film Cooperative on Friday 31 July. MFC and Critical Mass Manchester are showing the documentary Bicycle and launching a new book by Carlton Reid Roads Were Not Built for Cars.
They say “Bicycle” is a humorous, lyrical and warm reflection on the bicycle and cycling and its place in the British national psyche”.
Further details see

Remember
cnd film

the commitment of peace campaigners in the northwest to a peaceful world. Watch this new film where activists remind us of this important part of our radical history. Recent events such as the arrest of a whistleblower at the Faslane Trident base show the importance of peace campaigns. CND was once a powerful force in the politics of this country but the issue of Trident was barely mentioned in the general election (except in Scotland) take part in the discussion following the film. More details see

Look
frank green

At some scouse art. Frank Green has been painting his native Liverpool for fifty years and in this exhibition at St. George’s Hall they provide a moving history of the massive changes that have taken place to some of its iconic and not so iconic buildings. Frank has painted the important buildings including the Town Hall, the main football grounds and the cathedrals that are how we see Liverpool. But he has also painted many of the streets, churches and buildings that are/were an important part of local communities in less well-known suburbs including Tuebrook, Everton and Wavertree. The exhibition is a tribute to his love for the city and well worth viewing. See it at

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Manchester: a tale of two tents.

There are two sets of tents in Manchester city centre at the moment: white expensive ones for the Manchester International Festival and shabby ones for the homeless. The MIF tents are in Albert Square next to the Town Hall while the homeless’ tents are in St Ann’s Square, a script’s throw from the Royal Exchange Theatre, one of the main venues for MIF. The city centre is dominated by billboards and flyers advertising the festival, even though many of the events were sold out well before the festival started.

The MIF website champions its status: “Manchester International Festival is the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events and takes place biennially, in Manchester, UK. The Festival launched in 2007 as an artist-led, commissioning Festival presenting new works from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture.”
background MIF

In 2015 the MIF hosts artists as diverse as Damien Albarn, Bjork and Ronni Ancona. All the events are in the city centre and the BBC, as one of its sponsors, has given the festival a national platform. The white tents have offered free performances including the BBC bringing its own arts programmes live from the tent: Newsnight broadcaster Kirsty Wark has fronted programmes about the MIF and indeed asked some challenging questions about the concept of the MIF.

But is the festival for Mancunians or is it another opportunity for tourists with money to visit Manchester and enjoy a festival that could be held in any city in the country? I spoke to Alex Davidson, Secretary of Manchester Trades Union Council, who told me, “MIF is integral to Manchester City Council’s strategy to turn Manchester into a London Mark Two where the city centre is largely lived in, worked in and socialised in by rich people. Funding events like this attracts the kind of people they want to live in the city centre.” Unlike other northern councils Labour-controlled Manchester City has substantial reserves. Davidson reflects; “It is where they decide to put the money; not on defending jobs and services but on concentrating on the narrow confines of the city centre and a specific group of people.”

Funding of the arts is a controversial issue. MIF got two million pounds from Manchester City Council, its single biggest donor, and even £30,000 from poor sister authority Salford City Coucil, even though none of the events were held there.The Arts Council of England rewarded the MIF with a 50% increase to £729,000. With corporate sponsors the budget could hit £12m.

Manchester has a thriving arts scene including the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival which is running events in July alongside the MIF, although not a partner within it. GMFF enables local actors, performers and writers to showcase their work in local venues as far apart as Saddleworth and Salford. Funding is scarce, though. Altogether they have raised several hundred pounds with a small donation from Salford City Council (where several events take place), an advert from a local car company and a one-off donation from one of the venues – the Salford Arts Theatre. Unpaid festival director Zena Barrie explained; “We applied for Arts Council funding but were refused on the grounds that we couldn’t guarantee quality.” Ironic given the whole point of fringe festivals is to give new performers a chance to get their work out to an audience. One of the few dramas about the austerity was showcased at the GMFF, Knock Knock by Love and Light Theatre company, a short play about poverty, sanctions and bailiffs, written by Kate Marlow.

Knock Knock

Knock Knock

For self-funded and eclectic Three Minute Theatre in the city centre, run by Gina Frost and John Topliff, seasoned performers and teachers, MIF is irrelevant to the work they do throughout the year. Frost comments; “We don’t see them as competitors because we cannot compete with them.” while Topliff adds; “It strikes me that the organisers have a low opinion of what happens in Manchester and it’s as if they are coming in to show us how to do it.”
3mt

The MIF does have an elitist profile but Alex Poots, the MIF CEO, explains how they have tried to reach out to the poorer Mancunians. “We run a reduced price ticket scheme for Greater Manchester residents at or below the living wage: 10% of tickets for all price bands across all shows are priced at £12. These are offered on an honesty basis to those with a GM postcode and via existing groups and networks – we have a dedicated member of staff who works to identify those groups and work with them to get the tickets to those that want them.”

What do people living outside the city centre, where the cuts in services and jobs are biting hard, think. I went to one of the poorest areas, Clayton in East Manchester, and asked some of the residents for their views about the MIF. Most of them had heard about it because of the publicity in the media. One person who worked for the Council and didn’t want to be named was outraged about the use by MIF as £14,000 as a benchmark for cheaper ticket prices. “£14,000 will barely cover rent, council tax, food and getting to work, never mind going out”. Ruth Joseph, a wife and mother of four, liked the idea of the MIF and was interested in taking her children along, but when I told her that a child ticket was priced at £12, she said; “I could buy a DVD for that and all of them could watch it.”
aldi clayton

Unemployment and underemployment is rife in Manchester and, apart from the money that the MIF has been given by public funds, the issue of the use of hundreds of volunteers to take part in the running and performances is a controversial point. Entertainment unions Equity and Bectu have been running campaigns to stop exploitation, particularly of young people who are desperate to get a job in the arts. Alex Davidson comments; “It’s negative and demeaning of Manchester Council to dress up volunteering as civic minded engagement when it’s only people who come from rich or better off backgrounds with parents subsidising them that can afford to take part in arts activities.”

As the last performances are staged and they start dismantling the white tents of the MIF, the homeless people who have been camping in the city centre face another court appearance as Manchester Council tries to exclude them permanently from the city centre. I spoke to Wesley Duff, a spokesperson for the homeless camp; “I think it is wrong the way Manchester City Council has prioritised giving money to the MIF and it won’t look after their own people; the homeless and people with mental health problems.”

Frederick Engels, writing in 1844 in his classic study of poverty in Manchester, The Condition of the Working Class, could have been writing about the city in 2015.

“And the finest part of the arrangement is this, that the members of this money aristocracy can take the shortest road through the middle of all the labouring districts to their places of business, without ever seeing that they are right in the midst of the grimy misery that lurks to the right and left. For the thoroughfares leading from the Exchange in all directions out of the city are lined, no both sides, with an almost unbroken series of shops, and are so kept in the hands of the middle and lower bourgeoisie”.

Manchester 19 Century

Manchester 19 Century

I put these comments about the MIF to Councillor Rosie Battle, executive member for Culture at Manchester City Council, but did not get a reply.

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch
Udita
Udita (Arise) a film about the garment industry in Dhaka in Bangladesh. It could be 19C Britain or 20C New York (Triangle Fire 1911). Poor impoverished, mainly women, who have left their villages to join the 4million in factories producing cheap clothes for us. They tell their story in this remarkable film, a story about living in sheds, with wages that barely cover their costs and that are sometimes not paid for months and working long hours with little time to see their children. But the women and men have not been defeated, even after fires at Tazreen and Rana Plaza that have killed and injured thousands of workers. We watch as they become activists in their trade union; the National Garment Workers Federation. The union has been successful in gaining higher wages for the workers and joining with other international organisations to highlight the way in which the workers are being exploited by the industry. Its a difficult film to watch but inspiring for anyone concerned about justice across the world.

Find
tracey moffatt 1

out about Aboriginal filmmaker and artist Tracey Moffatt. Her work reflects her background. Tracey’s mother was white and her father aboriginal. It is an aspect of the Aboriginal history that I knew nothing about. In these short films Tracey explores topics including; being mixed race, the lives of young aboriginal women today and the attraction between different races.
Nice Coloured Girls

Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy (1989)

Other

Read
the world that never was

The World That Never Was A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents by Alex Butterworth. You might think this is not holiday reading but I found it fascinating. It is set in the last years of the 19 Century and reading it leads one to draw parallels with the kind of society we are living in today. There was great social injustice, economic instability, a cynicism about the democratic system and a capitalist system that seemed to be on the point of collapse. This is the story of the anarchist movement that believed in social revolution although when the time came for action it wasn’t them who took power. The book reminds us on some fascinating characters such as Louise Michel who was active in Paris in 1871 and with a rifle in hand she defended the new republic. Anarchism spoke to peoples’ hopes and dreams for a better world with science playing a major role in transforming society. This book shows how those dreams shaped peoples’ political activity and the world we live in today.

Join
pic_stockport-mental-health-protest
Stockport against the Cuts. The campaign is exposing what it means to be living in Stockport and the effects of cuts in public services. Join them on 23 July at 7pm at Stockport Town Hall for a meeting to discuss the closure of the Well Being Centre and cuts to local mental health services. Further details see

Go
manchester shakespeare co
To a production of the Manchester Shakespeare Company, set up by Gina and John of eclectic 3MTheatre. Their aim is show more people the beauty and relevance of 16 century drama. Events include productions of the plays with a Mancunian twist, poetry evenings and readings. It will be different, of that you can be sure!! Further details see

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch
dear-white-people-poster
Dear White People (Home), a satire on American race relations, the emphasis being on “satire”. Set in a posh university (similar to Oxford and Cambridge) somewhere in the USA it is about the power struggle between privileged black (Afro American) and white students. It asks what does it mean to be black? is the race war over now Obama is president? can white people make jokes about black stereotypes? do white people secretly want to be black people? It sounds very serious but it’s not, it is very funny,lots of clever witty remarks thrown around although I have to say I only got about 60% of them due to the language and cultural differences. The only thing I found irritating was the lack of any debate about race and poverty; which are the real divisions in American society. Otherwise a very thought provoking and challenging film.

Go
knock knock
See some austerity drama. You are not going to find it at the Manchester International Festival even if you could afford to get a ticket, which most Mancunians cannot. Love and Light Theatre presents Knock Knock, a new play written and directed by Kay Marlow. The performance began with Kay announcing that 2 (out of the 4 actors) had dropped out due to illness. She offered us the choice of leaving or staying whilst the cast carried on. The audience stayed.
Knock Knock is a play for today. The story of a single parent who loses her job, is sanctioned for missing a Jobcentre appointment and descends into poverty and despair. It is a common story in Britain today and was told with great performances by all the cast. The term Knock Knock refers to the arrival of a bailiff to try and get payment of community tax or to remove property. There is a strange scene about the Tory government and wanking which I found really irritating. People in power are not bothered about personal attacks; they don’t need to, they have all the power. Also the writer uses Peterloo as an example of people fighting back against poverty. Unfortunately that was not what it was about; it was for the vote. A better analogy would have been the unemployed workers movement of the 30s of whom women played a significant part. Proceeds from the play are going to the homeless project coffee4craig so support them!
Book tickets at
Remember
we are many
the protests against the Iraq war in 2003 in the film “We Are Many”. It was the biggest demos I had ever been on. Across the world people refused to allow Bush, and to a lesser extent Blair, get away with bombing Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 bombings. The film is an important reminder of how Blair and his supporters used the “dodgy dossier” to push Britain into supporting the USA. So millions of people demonstrated and what was the outcome? The Iraq war still went ahead and has led to further destabilisation across the world from Syria to the streets of this county. Blair’s government and their response to the march is just one of the reasons why people are so disillusioned with the political system. Great film but I could have done without the celebrity comments ie. Richard Branson and Damien Albarn: who cares??!
Support independant film club as Kino Indie Features Presents a Special Screening of ‘We Are Many’ at 3MT on Wednesday 15th July . Buy them at

Learn
we_want_to_riot
about the Brixton riots in 1981. Past Tense publications have just reprinted their classic WE WANT TO RIOT, NOT TO WORK ( £5) They say “Between Friday, 10th April, 1981, and Monday April 13th April 1981, serious disorder occurred in Brixton… when large numbers of persons,predominantly black youths, attacked police, police vehicles (many of which were totally destroyed), attacked the Fire Brigade, destroyed private premises and vehicles by fire, looted, ransacked and damaged
shops…”We Want to Riot, Not to Work” (originally published in 1982) combines
rip-roaring personal accounts of the riots from unashamed participants,
with a radical analysis of their causes, and the response of the
authorities”.
Buy it at

Save
communist manifesto
Yourself the bother of reading the Communist Manifesto watch the cartoon see
Only an American could make this!!

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Headscarf not digital revolutionaries!


The Headscarf Revolutionaries Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple-Trawler Disaster
by Brian W. Lavery
Barbican Press £12.99

HR book

Today it is difficult to find protest groups run by working class women with northern accents. And if they do exist they are not likely to get much national attention unless they have a celebrity such as Russell Brand or Charlotte Church in tow for the press to take an interest in, with the exception of newspapers such as the Morning Star.

1968 might have seen revolution kicking off everywhere from Derry to Paris and Berlin but in the city of Hull there were just as important things going on and it was a group of working class women who were at the heart of it. In this wonderful new book, Headscarf Revolutionaries, Brian W.Lavery reminds us of a forgotten chapter of our radical history.

In 1968 in the fishing community of Hull in a period of just three weeks, three trawlers were lost and 58 men died. One woman, Lillian Bilocca, who worked in the fish skinning section of the industry, decided to do something about it. She said to her daughter; “Something has to get done. I’m starting a petition to get the gaffers to make them trawlers safer. That could be our Ernie or your Dad out there, God forbid.”

Lily didn’t just get people to sign a petition, she wrote to the papers, organised a meeting for the community and then, backed by a contingent of women and children, she confronted the trawler bosses. This is her story and of the women who fought an intense battle to get a safer working environment for their men.
lily 2

Reading this book about the conditions in the fishing industry (both in the warehouses and at sea) reminded me of the 19Century: that is how bad things were. Men who worked on the trawlers were zero hour workers, they had to pay for their own protective gear and bedding for their time at sea.

The trawler owners did not care about who worked for them and this was highlighted at Xmas when the usual crewmen, who only had 36 days off per year, refused to work. The fishing carried on with what were called “Christmas cracker crews”. Lavery says “owners turned a blind eye to ships crewed by drunks and incompetents and even by men and boys who had never been to sea.”

Many of the ships were not suitable for the Arctic winters, lacking signalling equipment for emergencies and sailing without wireless operators and with an inexperienced crew.

How do you fight for workers who are so beaten down and desperate for work? Well Lily knew that the only way to stop these badly equipped ships from leaving the port was to take direct action. She said to reporters; “I’ll be on that dock tomorrow, checking them ships are properly crewed and have radio operators on them. I ‘ll jump aboard myself to stop ‘em going out that dock if I have to.”
lily on the docks

And that is what she did with her headscarfed sisters. As a ship passed by on the dock she asked the crewmen if they had a radio operator and if they replied no she went into action. “It took six uniformed coppers, one WPC and a plain clothes man to hold Lily back. She threw herself off the quayside and tried to jump aboard.”

The campaign was successful. This was at a time when there was a Labour Government that was prepared to support workers’ rights and trade unions such as TGWU that made sure they kept their word. The women changed the shipping laws.

But, like many campaigners, there was a price to be paid for the level of attention that Lily got as one of the main women involved in the campaign. Not everyone in her community supported her or the campaign and she got a series of death threats, while the national tabloids were unkind about her appearance and her working class persona. Lily lost her job at the fish factory and was blacklisted by the industry.

In 1975 Iceland declared a 200 mile limit and the Cod War started. It signalled the end of the Hull fishing industry.

This is the kind of working class history that we need today; to inspire working class communities across the country and to show that, however bad things may seem, you can do something about it. Brian W. Lavery has written a very readable and accessible book and given us back a real working class heroine.

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

Watch
cnd film
Now More than Ever the premiere screening of a new film about people, protest and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Greater Manchester. CND has been one of the most important national organisations in the history of radical movements in this country. In the late 1970s when I first joined it was at the cutting edge of the debate around what kind of society we want to live in and it woke people up to the shocking horror of the potential use of nuclear weapons. Many people went to Greenham to oppose the siting of cruise missiles in this country: many others took part in demos and protests across the UK. Today when we still have thousands of nuclear weapons in the world we need CND even more. This film is an important part of the debate about why people get involved with peace campaigns and hopefully this and other screenings will bring new activists into the campaign. Book here

Look
why be a wife
See Red at Huddersfield Gallery. See Red was a women’s silkscreen printing collective that produced posters and illustrations for the women’s liberation movement. Their aim; to challenge negative images of women in the media. If you were around in the 70s and 80s you will recognise their style. One of the memorable ones was of a woman dressed as a bride, the slogan of the poster was Is there life after marriage; Y BA Wife. More controversial was their poster highlighting the human rights abuses against republican women by the British government at Armagh prison in Northern Ireland in the 80s. The artists produced the posters as part of a collective, they were not in it to make money or become well-known, they did it to change society’s views about women and promote a better way of living. This is art at its best: direct and challenging and they made a difference!
The display at Huddersfield Art Gallery will include a selection of posters and archival material produced by the collective between 1974-1983 exploring both the history of the workshop and its legacy today. Further info see

Find
Rising of the Moon 111-23201

out about Chartism in Bradford. Chartism was one of the most influential working class movements. It was born out of despair with the political system after the failure to get the franchise widened to include the working classes in 1832, (nothing new there), after the introduction of repressive legislation against the poor in the New Poor Law, and the failure to get the repeal of the Act of Union with Ireland (anti-imperialist) ; the Chartists wanted a whole new world. “The Rising of the Moon” a new play about Chartism was produced by the theatre company Northern Lines.   Javaad Alipoor wrote and directed it. It was funded by Bradford MDC and the National Lottery. Sadly the play is not touring but you can download a podcast. See
Also look at Rebel Road, a section of the Unite website that celebrates trade union and labour movement heroes which signposts statues, plaques or buildings as well as museums and exhibitions that are worth visiting to find out more about our labour history. See

Read
the dignity of chartism
The Dignity of Chartism, a selection of essays by Dorothy Thompson. She spent fifty years of her life uncovering the real story of Chartism and made us all aware of the significance of its role in our radical history. Dorothy showed us that it was a movement with class at its heart, that women played a key role in the organisation and that it was led by an Irishman, Feargus O’Connor, who inspired a generation. She was married to Edward Thompson and together they pursued their politics and historical studies. This book includes a previously unpublished essay on Halifax Chartism that they both wrote and is for the first time available to read. I think this is an important book to read at a time when activists seem overwhelmed with a neo-liberal agenda. It is a study of how working class people changed society and shows how we can do it too.

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My interview with TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

Frances O’Grady is the first woman to be appointed to the job of General Secretary to the TUC. She faces a difficult task as trade union membership is in decline and trade union representatives are being victimised and sacked on a regular basis and the new Tory Government wants to bring in more anti-trade union legislation. Is there a future for trade unions in 2015?

Frances 1

In the late 70s trade union membership was at a height of 12 million but today it is down to 6 million. O’Grady believes though that however bad things are today, they would have been much worse without a trade union movement. She says, “Trade unions have been involved in a 30 year battle against a set of ideas called neo-liberalism that says the best way of running the country is to let the top elite do very well and eventually it will trickle down to the rest of us.”

She points to the growing inequality in society and the way in which it has affected peoples’ lives including the destruction of public services and the loss of 1 million jobs which has hit peoples’ standard of living, particularly women, because they depend on services such as the NHS and Surestart Centres.

O’Grady believes that people are now looking for a deeper change in society and the way in which the country runs. “I believe we are at a crossroads moment, are we going to buy this ideology any longer? Or are we going to say we need a new set of values for this country, ones about fairness, everyone sharing in the economic recovery and recognising that if you are going to redistribute wealth you need to redistribute power and that it won’t just happen by itself.”

O’Grady is proud of the role that trade unions have played in the hard times that this country has been living through. But she is realistic about the problems of organising workers in a “flexible” labour market. “The government are making claims about an economic revival but behind the headlines we can see that unemployment is now being distributed amongst a larger number of people. And for the first time in the UK there is the problem of the underemployment of millions of people stuck in part-time jobs or on zero hour contracts.”
She points to some of the wins that have been made by marginalised workers including the Curzon cinema workers in London, the campaign by the Bakers Union to organise fast food workers and the pressure put on large employers over the use and abuse of unpaid internships.

The TUC strategy is to tackle the unfairness at the heart of the labour market. “We believe we need to strengthen the rights for workers both collectively and individually and that will give us a better chance of organising them.”

It’s a back to basics role for the TUC. O’Grady is emphatic about that; “We have to tell young people the truth that, unless you get organised, as each generation has had to do, the odds are against you. You need to band together at work to win better pay and conditions and respect.”

But she is also very aware that trade unions themselves need to change.”We have done amazing things against the odds but we have got to do more.” She feels that change needs to come in the way trade unions organise. “Sometimes our structures and cultures end up looking too much like a club and not a movement.” That means that trade unions should be more representative of their members or the workers they want to get to join the unions. This includes women and people from the black and ethnic minorities.

Democracy is at the heart of O’Grady’s strategy for a fairer society with trade unions playing an important role. She understands the history of struggle for democracy in this society and the battles that have been fought in the past but she is not nostalgic about that history. “Its no good celebrating heroes or heroines of the past if we don’t respect them by using our vote and fighting for a deeper more equal democracy.” She is concerned that the growing cynicism about the political system will mean that people do not vote in elections. “It plays into hands of an elite who don’t care if we don’t vote and by doing so we will let them off the hook.”

O’Grady comes from an Irish background, her grandfather came over from Dublin to work in the building industry and was a trade unionist and socialist. Nowadays he would be stereotyped as a foreign worker but it was the Irish and other ethnic minorities who were at the bottom end of the labour market who were involved in some of the greatest political struggles. As she says; “Very often we talk about migrant workers as ‘victims’ but they are very often the ones who have the guts to take the first steps to organise themselves at work.” There is a lesson there.

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