Groundswell; A Grassroots Journey, screening organised by Manchester Film Cooperative and Keep Our NHS Public Greater Manchester on I March at 7.30pm. It is really important that filmmakers document social movements and this was funded by many individuals, some of whom are the campaigners in the film. Groundswell is about the NHS and the campaign 999 Call for the NHS in the run up to the General Election of May 2015. It features grassroots campaigner Joanne Adams, who organised the “Darlington Mums” march across the country to London and a massive demo in Trafalgar Square in September 2014. One of the big problems though, for the campaigns around the NHS, is that we have proven that people will come out in their thousands for a demo, but it is very difficult to get people at a local level to join campaigns; both workers in the NHS as well as users. NHS campaigns have been damaged by the politics of the Labour Party. Before the general election it was Andy Burnham and his reluctance to support opposition to the privatisation agenda and today, although Jeremy Corbyn is now leader, Labour hasn’t actually changed its policies with the likes of Heidi Alexander cosying up to Simon Stevens (head of the NHS). Never mind local Labour councils now running parts of the NHS locally with little accountability to its constituents. Join the debate after the film wth the director and the 999 campaign, but more importantly join the campaign and do something!
Grafters (workers, not ticket touts as in Manc lingo) at the Peoples History Museum. An exhibition that includes photographs from the archives of the north of England’s industrial towns and cities. Many of the photos seem very voyeuristic: it suited employers to use their workers as models or props in the display of their products. Most of the photos record a time that has gone forever; the world of mines, factories and mills. I particularly liked exhibition curator Ian Beesley’s picture of a tyre fitter taken as the factory was being closed down. The fitter did get to choose how he would be photographed and his name was not recorded. Not sure that many of these workers got a say in whether they wanted to be photographed. But I do love Ian McMillan’s poetry which accompanies the photos. At the end of the exhibition there is an opportunity to upload your own photos of yourself at work, and I think this says something about the reality of work; do we really want to be there, is it what we want to be known for? Not surprisingly it is the happy smiley creative artists who have sent their photos in, not the care assistants or fast food workers.
If This Is A Woman: Inside Ravensbruck; Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm. I usually avoid books about concentration camps because I know how horrific they are going to be, but I was drawn to this book because I did not know Hitler had set up concentration camps for women. Ravensbruck was in Germany, and between 1939 and 1945 over 130,000 women from 20 countries were imprisoned there. As Sarah comments in the book, few historians have been interested in researching what happened in concentration camps generally, and this is the only book written about Ravensbruck. Some of the survivors did produce their own accounts of their lives in the camp, but in post war Europe there was little interest shown in their histories for reasons the book explains. For me, as a political activist, I wanted to know about how the communist and socialist women coped with being interned and also what relationships they had with the other women who lived alongside them.
Whilst it is wonderful to read of the courage of the political women, to oppose and undermine in any way the monstrous regime in the camp, it is sad that the names and experiences of so many vulnerable women, including the sex workers and gypsies have been lost to history. Sarah has produced a tremendous history book: one that involved her travelling across the world to find the surviving women and also delving deep into some of the worst stories of humanity in the C20th. I think the book and its history has a resonance today as we, nightly on the news, watch people fleeing the Assad regime in Syria and ending up in camps across Europe. And whilst I think that most people are sympathetic to their plight, it is the harshness of, in particular, governments such as our own which seek to dehumanise these people and refuse them sanctuary in our country. Highly recommended, but it costs £25 and I was lucky enough to find it in my local library.