Friday, June 26, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning (15)

Directed by Christine Jeffs
Written by Megan Holley
On general release from 26th June 2009

It is rare for a film to be both wearyingly dull and seat-punchingly frustrating, but Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) manages to serve-up just such a disappointing hodgepodge in her second film.

Rose (Amy Adams) is a former highschool head cheerleader whose life has gone downhill from those apparently dizzy heights. Now a thirty-something "failure" with silly 'positive thinking' post-it notes on her mirror, she moves from McJob to McJob, not really fitting in anywhere, and has an affair with a cop (Steve Zahn) who doesn't want to leave his wife. Younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) quirkily drifts through her existence, finding nothing much to interest her for very long. Together they decide to start a business cleaning crime scenes ("a real growth industry") to make some money and put Rose's bright young son (Jason Spevack) into a private school.

Many potentially interesting ideas - upon which entire films could easily be based - are floated in one scene, or one line even, before being unceremoniously dropped. For instance, if cleaning crime scenes really is a growth industry, why could that be? Similarly, why is it that Rose suffers from such a lack of self-esteem? Why is she a bit ashamed to tell her old school friend she is a cleaner? After all, where would the world be without cleaning? And why does that guy only have one arm?

It can be difficult for artists to deal with matters of great social significance, and various processes have made it even harder over the past few decades, particularly for film-makers. But tensions that were bubbling under when Sunshine Cleaning was first conceived are now erupting on the surface. Jeffs tries here, but a total re-ordering of art is required, and this kind of coy flirtation with saying something is not sufficient.

Workers' Fightback: Update 8

Following the recent gains made by workers’ resistance at Visteon and Linamar plants, there is apparently more positive news this week. Wildcat strikers at the Lindsey oil refinery – in conjunction with others in solidarity around the country – have seemingly won the reinstatement of seven hundred sacked construction workers.

The dispute was triggered when fifty-one steel erectors, platers and welders involved in the construction of a £200 million desulphurisation plant were sacked by Total sub-contractor Shaw Group UK. 1,200 workers at the site then took immediate – and illegal – strike action, demanding a reversal of the redundancies. Some of the fifty-one had been on the strike committee when Lindsey workers struck back in February, and Total clearly intended to show that dissent would not be tolerated. Indeed, they responded to these latest wildcats by sacking a further six hundred and fifty constructors last week.

However, Total and their sub-contractors had obviously not counted on the determination of the workforce, and those in a similar situation countrywide. Around 2,500 workers at thirty sites have been involved in wildcats, and this has clearly stunned Total, because they have now agreed to go back on their decision.

The gains made by the united Total workforce have been made by acting outside of the law, and rejecting the official procedures laid down by trade union tops. But the matter is far from over. Total will be keen to avenge this defeat and make the most of the opportunity the unemployment crisis gives them to further drive down wages and conditions. A ballot over formal strike action is just a few weeks away, but that still gives Total time to prepare a response. Join the ‘Victory to the workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery’ group here.

As previously reported in Update 5, parents have been occupying the roof Lewisham Bridge Primary School since the end of April, in protest against the demolition of the school, and its replacement with a privatised ‘foundation school’. An eviction attempt was made on Thursday, but this was successfully repelled by the occupiers. The ‘Hands Off Lewisham Bridge Primary School’ group reports:

“At 9.30am 4 police vans pulled into Elmira Street including a TSG (Territorial Support Group) van… We secured the gate and drew up the ladder much to the concern of the few journalists who were now stuck on the roof with us… As the police formed their line around the school the bailiffs arrived. The journalists were finally let out by the security inside the school to the hysterical screams from Lewisham’s press officer that they would all be arrested for trespass… There then followed a 2-hour standoff. We kept up our chants and even sang songs courtesy of Goldsmiths students’ musical accompaniment…Finally the cops realized that they couldn’t physically remove us from the roof and they left, followed swiftly by the bailiffs."

Pictures and a video of the confrontation can be seen here.

In an illustration of the lengths the state will go to when profits are threatened by labour resistance, police have stormed an occupied car factory in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, reportedly causing eighty injuries. 2,600 out of 7,100 workers had been sacked by SsangYong Motors, so more than one thousand have been occupying the plant for over a month. On Thursday, they rejected a “final offer” from SsangYong, and on Friday the police were sent in to protect strikebreakers and end the occupation, illustrating the hand in glove relationship between corporate and political power.

The Liverpool Workers’ Fightback group will be meeting at Next To Nowhere social centre, 96 Bold Street, on Tuesday 7th July, from 6pm. Solidarity with local resistance will be on the agenda, and all who are interested in supporting rank-and-file workers in struggle are welcome.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 7

This last week has been a momentous one for our young phoenix of resistance as it rises from the flames of economic devastation, because we have witnessed the first major link-up between this generation of students and workers in struggle in the UK.

Last Friday (12th June), cleaners at the School of African and Oriental Studies in Camden were instructed to attend an early morning meeting. The gathering was then raided by around fifty police in riot gear. The cleaners were then locked in the room, and nine were taken into detention. The cleaning contractor – ISS – is known to have requested the police action, which coincided with a rally that was due to take place in support of another sacked ISS employee. The cleaners were in the process of unionising, and had just won the London Living Wage.

In response to what seems to have been a horrific act of collective punishment, students occupied part of the university, starting on Monday. On Thursday, the student union and SOAS principal Paul Webly agreed to the following points, and the occupation ended:

1. SOAS will write directly to the Home Secretary within 12 hours of the end of the protest, requesting that he grants exceptional leave to remain in the UK those cleaners who are still being detained. In addition; SOAS will request the immediate return of those who have been deported and exceptional leave to remain for those forced into hiding by Friday's raid.

2. SOAS will open discussions with ISS, and separately with UNISON, UCU and the SU to review in detail the events of last Friday.

3. SOAS will discuss the possibility of bringing cleaning services in-house at the next scheduled meeting of its governing Body.

4. SOAS will meet with the relevant unions to discuss health and safety issues relating to immigration raids and acknowledge UCU policy of non-compliance with immigration raids.

5. SOAS will not take action against those involved in the protest.

Socialist Worker immediately and uncritically declared an “important victory”, though a correspondent in The Commune was more circumspect. Anyway, as always, more support is still needed, and the issue is not dead yet. Click here for the ‘Stop the Deportation of SOAS University cleaners!’ group.

Open hostilities have resumed at the Total Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire, following a spate of sackings and walkouts. On Wednesday 10th June, fifty-one workers were given ‘imminent redundancy notices’ by the Shaw sub-contractor. On Thursday 11th, Shaw employees went on wildcat strike, and were supported by scaffolders, electricians and workers of other trades and other sub-contractors. Management refused to negotiate, and stated the fifty-one would still be sacked. At a mass meeting on Wednesday 17th, the Lindsey workers decided to remain on strike until the redundancies are withdrawn. However, today (Friday), Total confirmed they are sacking a further nine hundred workers. Solidarity wildcats have broken-out at refineries around the country this week. Click here for the (non-nationalist) ‘Reinstate the 900 workers at Lindsey oil refinery’ group.

Meanwhile, LibCom reports that “workers in the warehouse for the Swedish state’s alcohol monopoly have started a wildcat strike in response to management attempts to replace the workforce with short term workers”. Having got short shrift from union reps, they struck anyway and blockaded the warehouse, until riot police cleared a path for strike-breakers. Still, snaps supplies are way down, and workers have moved their blockade to the Systembolaget (Swedish Alcohol Retail Monopoly) HQ in Stockholm.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Looking For Eric (15)

Directed by Ken Loach
Written by Paul Laverty
On general release from 12th June 2009

The Eric in question here is not really Monsieur Cantona – the ‘mercurial’ Man U star turned actor, who plays himself – but Eric the Manchester postman (Steve Evets), whose emotional turmoil is founded on half-buried relationship issues and a general sense of alienation from his ‘team-mates’ and the world. Though he can’t communicate this to anyone in his life, he tells all to a giant poster of his ‘god’, until the icon apparently comes to life. So will the real Eric stand up? He certainly will…

Cantona turns in a wonderful performance, sending up his philosopher persona, whilst still offering his postie friend decent advice. We learn his greatest memory of his playing days is not the dazzling runs, the screaming shots, or the showy individualist tricks. No, it is a surprise pass to Dennis Irwin on the edge of the box. The hollow ‘self-help’ approach to improving your life is also mercilessly mocked, as it absolutely needs to be. No, you must “trust your team-mates always”, and work with them to achieve your goals. Of course, this trust can’t come from out of nowhere; it is events that change people and their relationships. But when events threaten the life of Evets’ character, he finds he has many, many people in his squad.

Occasionally horrific, often desperately sad, yet ultimately joyful, Looking For Eric sits somewhere between Loach’s own Riff-Raff; It’s A Wonderful Life and Fight Club. It’s a bit of a departure for the director. Though his usual social conscience and commitment to naturalism are here, the ‘grittiness’ of the scenes he depicts is tempered with dashes of knockabout banter and camaraderie that he normally downplays when giving working class life a rare big screen outing. In particular, John Henshaw as ‘Meatballs’ is full of dry humour and wisecracks. So it’s interesting that Loach has added this element during the onset of economic crisis, at a time when it is most needed. As a result, this film glows with belief in the power of ‘ordinary people’. Meatballs is a “fucking postman”, you are whatever you are, and together the people who make this world go round can do anything.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 6

Over half of UK workers have seen an attack on their jobs, pay or working conditions since the start of the recession, according to bosses’ website Keep Britain Working. LibCom reports that:
“27% of workers in the UK have taken a pay cut, 24% have seen a cut in hours, and 24% have “lost benefits”. 37% of workers have experienced one of these attacks, whereas 27% have experienced two and 5% have experienced all three.”
But some groups of workers are fighting back, showing that there is an alternative to the kind of despair that the BNP and politicians generally feed on: working class solidarity!

A solid strike by London Tube workers aside, the good news this week is that the decisive action of Ford/Linamar workers in Swansea has forced bosses into a retreat, and saved the job of their union convenor, Rob Williams. ‘Red Robbo’ was sacked when he expressed solidarity with the sacked Visteon workers, who were taking direct action in and around their Ford-linked factories (the Visteon fighters eventually won a much improved redundancy package). An indefinite strike had been due to start at Linamar on Thursday, but the company agreed to unconditionally reinstate Williams, averting the action with just hours to spare. It may not be a mere coincidence that Williams had recently visited the Ford plant in Kansas, which is the main receiver of parts from Linamar Swansea. But this will not be the end of the war; Linamar will still be looking to offload the cost of their profit crisis onto the workers who create that profit. Watch this space, and this one.

As if Ford weren’t having enough trouble, there’s also the beginning of resistance at their Getrag plant in Halewood, Merseyside. Getrag want to impose a cut to one of three shifts at the gearbox-making factory. Last year, production was halted for a month over Christmas, and in January workers returned to a four day week. Now bosses want further reductions, and Unite union negotiator Dave Osbourne seemed willing to comply two weeks ago, telling the Liverpool Daily Post that:

“We met senior Getrag management, who indicated to us their need to reduce shift work in the plant as a result of falling volumes. They have given notice they intend to move to two-shift working in mid-June or the end of June. We do not foresee any job losses.”
This statement exposes the nationalist perspective of the union tops. They are trying to protect their dues base by forcing concessions on workers, and hoping that employers will keep jobs in the UK. However, this week it emerged that Getrag want to move the shift to a site in Bordeaux, France, where workers will presumably face a higher rate of exploitation. Six hundred and fifty Halewood workers reacted with fury, and staged a ‘wildcat’ strike - walking off the job without going through time-consuming official procedures. Osbourne has now pledged to get the matter “satisfactorily resolved”, but his own bottom line is sure to be his primary concern.

Finally for this week, workers at a sweatshop in Mexico were held hostage by their employer last Friday, in an attempt to stop them striking for better working conditions, a cafeteria, health services and better pay. Managers and security guards at the Midland factory Ciudad Juárez prevented a walkout by forcibly holding some sixty technical and blue-collar workers, who produce machine equipment for the oil industry.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Workers' Fightback: Update 5

Parents are still defiantly occupying the rooftop of Lewisham Bridge Primary School, six weeks after they began their action against a planned demolition and privatisation.

If Lambeth Council gets its way, the Grade Two listed building will be demolished, to make way for a new, privatised 3-16 foundation school. In the meantime, the Council are bussing children to the Mornington Centre, some nine miles away. Understandably, given the extra journey times (and everyone having to get up much earlier), tempers are getting frayed. But hey, just as long as there’s money to be made, eh? Join the Facebook group here, or read the blog here.

Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley has finally set a date for the start of strike action against the sacking of union convenor Rob Williams at the Linamar factory in Swansea, due to his reputation as a fighter and support for Visteon workers occupying their factories. However, Woodley’s first response to this dramatic assault on workers’ rights was to raise the matter with Gordon Brown, so he cannot be trusted to be an ‘honest broker’ between the workforce and Linamar/Visteon/Ford. At a time of crisis in the car industry, his first priority must be to protect his dues base. This is very different from the interests of rank-and-file workers. The strike is provisionally due for 6 am on Thursday. The Facebook group is here, or you can make cheques to the hardship fund out to "T&G 4/1" and send to Linamar Workers Hardship Fund, 31 Wanunwen Terrace, Swansea SA1 1DX.

And as Barack Obama praises his “steadfast ally”, Egyptian military dictator Hosni Mubarak, workers are fighting back against the Mubarak regime and corporate interests. Textile workers have begun an open-ended strike for bonus payments, while one hundred staff at the First Day Surgeries Hospital in Nasr City held a sit-in, having waited three months for basic wages and night shift allowances. And thousands of postal workers are defying ‘their’ union, to strike against a new ‘appraisal system’.

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