The artist Anthony Haughey has taken an interesting tack to commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, as part of a strand at this year’s Cork Film Festival. He’s put together a programme of films that celebrate workers’ rights from around the world.
His selection includes Eisenstein’s film Strike; a documentary about the impact of global trade on communities entitled The Forgotten Space, which, as its narrator explains, tells “the unlikely story of a steel box that changed the world trading system”; as well as a fascinating selection of mainly strike-based documentaries.
The choice of the National Sculpture Factory to screen the festival-within-a-festival is apt. The factory’s 30ft-high screen will, for example, capture well the epic scale of Eisenstein’s Strike, the Russian filmmaker’s debut feature about a workers’ strike and its savage suppression.
“The film programme goes from 120 years ago right up to date, to Co Cork, and a film made by Declan O’Connell called 161 Days, which features the Vita Cortex workers,” says Haughey. “We want to look at a history of labour disputes, and how, in various guises, workers managed to either resist areas where there was inequality or fight for fair pay.
“One of the films screened is the Lumière Brothers’ Workers Leaving the Factory, which was the first film ever screened in public in a café in Paris in Mar 1895. The clip was an experiment really, but you have this epic image of the end of a shift at work, with the workers leaving their workplace.
“There are particular seminal moments. For example, there was a film made called The Great Grunwick Strike 1976-1978, A History, which is on the eve of a significant political shift in the UK, just before Thatcher came to power. This particular documentary looks at the plight of a group of Bangladeshi women workers who protested outside a photo-developing plant. Something that started as a small action became a nationwide strike. The unions had huge power at that moment. Shortly after, Thatcher came to power and because of this particular strike it’s clearly argued [her government and big corporate employers] really hit on the unions to claim back some of their power.”
One of the most striking films featured is Barbara Kopple’s 1976 Oscar-winning documentary, Harlan County, USA. The film is about a vicious, 13-month coalminers’ strike in Kentucky. It includes a bluegrass soundtrack with women keening about men “dying with that black lung disease”; gunfights with scabs (“let the lead talk”); and the preposterous story of corrupt union boss Tony Boyle, who ordered a contract hit on an election rival and his family. Against the odds, the 180 coalminers prevailed by a mix of perseverance and a successful publicity campaign, which included picketing outside the New York stock exchange.
“It goes back to the relationship between the local and the global,” says Haughey. “In the case of the Vita Cortex workers, for example, Noam Chomsky was writing about — and supporting — their cause. He could see the inequality. It’s a case of the power of social networks these days. What seems to be local, inconsequential industrial disputes, by getting them out into the world, you generate acts of solidarity.”
* Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s The Forgotten Space, 7.30pm, Friday, Nov 15, National Sculpture Factory, Albert Rd, Cork. There is a series of free screenings of films at the factory, entitled Democratic Cinema — Cinéma Liberté — 12pm-9pm, Saturday, Nov 16.
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