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Using film to teach socialism

MARJ MAYO, CHRIS REEVES, MARY DAVIS and ANN FIELD are developing new video-led approaches to political education at the Marx Memorial Library

THIS month the Marx Memorial Library is piloting a new approach to political education — the use of documentary films. Drawing on Platform Films’ amazing collection, these sessions use film clips from the past to illustrate the recent history of class struggles in Britain.

The first session (on May 8) covered the forward march of labour in a period of industrial militancy in the 1970s. Dockers, miners, ship-builders and builders told their stories for themselves, in their own words. These were stories of class solidarity, as the mass mobilisations that led to the release of the imprisoned Pentonville Dockers demonstrated, for example. And there were stories of workers’ creativity, as the Clydeside shipbuilders’ work-in also illustrated. There were stories of heroism in the face of victimisation and there were stories of triumph, when the miners brought down a hostile Tory government in 1974.

Each struggle was different — but there were common threads to be explored in the discussion that followed. Employers were trying to maintain their profits at the expense of their workforces with the connivance and support of successive governments and successive governments (including Labour governments) were trying to support them in their efforts.

This was how the underlying relationships between labour, capital and the state played out in the 1970s, setting the scene for the sharper conflicts to come including struggles by miners and printworkers in the 1980s.

The next session (on Wednesday May 15) takes the story forward, with film clips from the Thatcher era, including from the epic miners’ strike (1984-1985). This will be followed by the concluding session on May 22 showing film clips of struggles for women’s equality.

Despite the effects of anti-trade union legislation, along with the effects of de-industrialisation, these sessions illustrate the extraordinary achievements of workers’ determination and struggle, with women to the fore, along with men. There are common threads as well as differences in the challenges that face the labour and progressive movement in the current context, including the challenges associated with precarious employment, in a hostile legislative climate.

Once this pilot has been completed the Marx Memorial Library plans to fine-tune the programmes and the accompanying notes, drawing out lessons for the use of film as a tool for political education. These materials can then be made available for political education more widely.

Sessions start at 7pm – to register for the next two sessions please do so at the Eventbrite address:


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