Saturday, 9 June 2018

Take Action and People - Manchester Central Library

As part of The Manchester Histories Festival, they have teamed up with The North West Film Archive and the Manchester Metropolitan University and showed some rather fascinating political film footage from the archives this afternoon. Both of these programmes, as well as others in the festival, were marking the 150th anniversary of the TUC [Trades Union Congress], and both these filmings showed significant events and people either in or from Greater Manchester which have had significant impact on the trade unions in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the first event 'Take Action'  several short films were being shown on a loop system. The 1985 Democracy Day March in Manchester city centre, new items of the era, including Nick Clarke reporting for the BBC on the TUC Women's conference in Stockport; the BBC's reporting of the Pilkington Glass factory workers returning to work after their strike in 1970; and the 1975 BBC clip of Richard Duckenfield reporting on the closure of Empress Mill, Ince, where the majority workforce were women who face long term unemployment as a direct result. There was also a longer film showing the 1991 Peoples' March For Jobs which went from Manchester to Liverpool.

In this first event, much emphasis was also given to the role of women in these heady days of strikes, union clashes, and Margaret Thatcher.  The male dominated BBC and white collar office workers still regarding women as those who should stay at home and look after the house and baby. Women were not getting the same rights and considerations as men. There was a whole wall dedicated to some of the more influential women in the TUC's progress, such as Ada Nield Chew who did much to improve working conditions for women in her native Crewe; Jarrow fighter Ellen Wilkinson; teenage activist and tireless trade unionist fighting for women's lib, Betty Tebbs; and Audrey White, who, after witnessing 4 women being sexually harassed by her area manager, complained and was summarily sacked.

Another interesting bi-product of watching such films, is that it gives you a fascinating a real glimpse of how these towns and cities looked architecturally at that time, as well as culturally with the type of shops being passed. The costumes and attitudes of the day too. It is amazing to think that just how much has changed in only 40 or 50 so years, in these regards, and yet, so little has changed in others.

The second event, immediately following this was the filming of two shorts. The first was  an interview with Hugh Scanlon by the BBC in 1972.  Scanlon at the height of his 'reign' was acknowledged as one of the most powerful men in England. Having been brought up in the poverty and depression that was England in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and with this having a profound effect on his mentality, he grew to be a powerful, albeit not particularly likeable, force within the Trade Unions and wielded his power with self-righteous belief in that he was effecting change to the masses for the better. Love him or hate him, he came across as a very well self-educated man with a passion for doing what he believed to be right .

The event finished with a showing of the second in a series of lectures given by Granville Lawrence and televised by the BBC in 1982 on the struggle of black workers in this country.  Lawrence spoke intelligently and passionately about trade unions. He believed that the only way to make a difference was to join and be an active member of the Trade Union; but first, he said, the biggest hurdle is actually getting a job! Black workers are under-represented and in his current job he knows that there are 20 black workers in a workforce of 3000.

Both Scanlon and Lawrence passionate Manchester men trying to change the socio-political landscape for the better.

Films such as these serve as a reminder to us that what we think of as either 'God Given Rights' or simply take for granted were things which were fought long and hard for, not by the ancient Greeks or other long-passed civilisations, but by your fathers and your fathers' fathers. It also highlights that despite having come so far, there is still a long way yet to travel.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 8/6/18

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