Newsletter No. 17 - Top Three Union Movies

Exceptionally good films to watch, news from Bangladesh, demo photos, book news and more...

Newsletter No. 17 - Top Three Union Movies


This is a bumper Winterval newsletter. I have so much to share - there's an update on the situation in Bangladesh, some top films to watch, book translation news, climate demo photos and so much more.

Palestine first. I have become a signatory to Artists For Palestine, you might also be interested in signing up to the newly formed Anti-Sweatshop Activists Against Apartheid. There is also this incredibly important request for donations to the Safety Fund of the International Federation of Journalists. Since the beginning of the war 67 journalists have been killed - 60 of them Palestinian. You can watch here to hear from the president of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate (PJS). In addition, this is a good resource to help UK folk write to their MP calling for a permanent ceasefire.

Things are overwhelming at the moment so I want to send something positive and useful out into the world. This year I've been adding things to my 'how to make winter better' list, one of which is to read in the evenings instead of defaulting to watching television. This means I've been more discerning when I do sit down to take in a film or a series. So here are three truly phenomenal films all about trade unions to settle down and get cosy to:

My Top Three Movies About Unions.

1) I Compagni (The Organiser), 1963. Director: Mario Monicelli

This is a film about the decision by hundreds of people to go on strike at a textile mill in Turin, Italy. The film is set at the end of the nineteenth century and the poverty and conditions it depicts are devastating - not least when you draw the parallels with today's garment industry. Into the strike comes Professor Sinigaglia played by the brilliant Marcello Mastroianni. Educated, though charmingly hapless, the professor helps the workers to become better organised. Although 'the organiser' of the title is the professor, it is the textile workers and their families who are the heart of the film as they struggle to hold the line, to support each other, to bravely face down the bosses, to discover class consciousness and to survive.

Part of what makes I Compagni quite so special, so raw and so realistic is that legendary costume designer Piero Tosi applied the same depth of attention to nineteenth century worker's clothing as he did to ballgowns in The Leopard. The costuming work in I Compagni is truly exceptional - detailed, sensitive and never caricatured. Pay close attention to the moment when Cesarina, a strike leader played by Elvira Tonelli, removes her hat and what this means for the rest of the film.

The subject matter of I Compagni is heavy but Monicelli keeps the pace fast and the tone light through humour and a love of the eternal story of what happens when social forces collide.

2) Salt of the Earth, 1954. Director: Herbert Biberman

This uplifting film has it all - worker's rights, solidarity, anti-racism, feminism and a backstory that is so interesting it was also made into a film. The main character in Salt of the Earth is Esperanza Quintero who is married to a zinc miner in a small mining town in New Mexico. Interestingly, Rosaura Revueltas, who plays Esperanza, is one of the only professional actors in the whole film, with much of the cast being made up of actual miners and their families.

In the film, a community of Mexican-American zinc miners goes on strike to get better conditions and the same pay as white miners. The struggle by the miners is one thing, but the role of the women of the town is quite another - without giving away the plot, this is a brilliant story of women throwing off traditional roles to find their voices and agency.

This is a deeply political left wing film made during the times of McCarthyism. Biberman, the film's director had been hauled up in front of Congress and then jailed when he refused to answer questions about the American Communist Party. After his release Biberman was blacklisted by Hollywood. Working independently Biberman got sponsorship for Salt of the Earth from the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, this meant the film got made but then stomped on by the US establishment. There is a film about this time called One of the Hollywood Ten which stars Jeff Goldblum as Biberman.

I wholeheartedly recommend Salt of the Earth - screen it for all your friends and relatives, you won't be disappointed.

3) Pride, 2014. Director: Matthew Warchus

This film tells the true story of how Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a group of gay activists in London, decided to fundraise for a mining community in South Wales during the miners’ strike of 1984-85. It is jubilant, defiant and tear-jerkingly touching at times.

The group coalesces around the charismatic Mark Ashton, a real life activist and member of the Young Communist League (an affiliation deleted by the film). LGSM travel to Wales to meet the miners and families they have worked so hard to support. Culture clashes ensue, truths are revealed and bonds formed. A note in case you're looking for an exclusively upbeat film - the backdrop to Pride is the HIV epidemic of the 1980's which devastated so many lives. But overall, if you haven't seen Pride already you absolutely must.

The fact that this is a true story and that so many of the people in the film have spoken out about how meaningful that time was for them makes it even more powerful. I once went to a screening of Pride in Cardiff with an introduction by Siân James - who we meet in the film - her political education during the strike propelled her from housewife to MP.

Everything else!

There's a lot so buckle up...

News from me

  • Foot Work has been translated into Japanese! I've never had a book translated into Japanese before so this feels very special. If you have friends, family, colleagues or long lost loves in Japan, or folk who read Japanese, please let them know and send them this link (When I am sent a non-Amazon link I will share it.)
  • A reminder that Das antikapitalistische Buch der Mode is also out now!
  • I've also spent a lot of this month giving lectures, including my Supply Chain Investigations course where I show journalists, students, or civil society teams how to investigate global supply chains using mostly free tools and using my own investigations as examples. I generally teach this through the Centre for Investigative Journalism but can be commissioned independently by universities. FYI - I also teach an introductory class InfoSec for Journalists which delivers the basics of secure online communication and source protection, and is also suitable for NGOs.
  • I will be speaking at And Still We Rise: The War on Want Festival of Solidarity & Resistance on 24 February 2024, along with Max Ajl (researcher, activist, and author: A People's Green New Deal), Jeremy Corbyn and many other speakers tbc. Early bird tickets here.

Notes From The Profit Margins

These are some of the things I am keeping my eye on in the industry right now.

  • Thank you to everyone who joined in the solidarity work with the Bangladeshi unions who were struggling to get the minimum wage raised to a living wage. After some delay, the Minimum Wage Board announce a rise from 8,000 (£60) to only 12,500 taka (£90) per month - far below the 23,000 taka (£165) that would be a living wage. As a result, protests erupted across Bangladesh and four workers were killed. Workers and trade union organisers were targeted for arrest, with at least 115 now in jail. A fundraiser has been launched to help get people out of prison. Please give what you can, there's even an option to receive a pack of Christmas Cards to give to friends and loved ones to say you have donated on their behalf.
Help Free a Garment Worker in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, 115 garment workers and union organisers were jailed during protests for a living wage, help raise money for their release.
  • This article on the last few thousand Muslim Silk-Weavers in Varanasi who are battling mechanisation, communal violence and hostile politics. Good photos in addition to the insightful writing.
  • This surreal moment when the Yes Men pretended to be adidas (launching a metaverse style portal where impoverished garment workers with implanted chips would live a nice life and get paid in crypto) and no one batted an eyelid...
  • This north London factory that is flipping from garment production to garment repair.
  • Heated reporting on 'The Instagram wellness influencers spreading climate misinformation'.
  • This great idea for a Garment Facts clothing label developed by Peter Gorse.
  • Land Back to Right Relations - a briefing the return of land from the enclosures of colonialism and capitalism to new patterns of radical relationality. Plus this short video on Indigenous fashion:
  • A fascinating new book Mindful Feet by Isabelle Brough which I heard about because it name checks Foot Work.
  • This article about an ID card apparently belonging to a Chinese prisoner being found in the lining of a Regatta coat - Regatta have disputed parts of the story but it's still a chilling reminder of prison labour in the garment industry.
  • The UK woman who grew her own jeans. More details here.
  • I also think you should know, because this is fashion adjacent at a stretch, that certain types of sea urchins will pick up a shell and ‘wear’ it as protection against light... so some people decided to 3D-print tiny hats and place them in aquariums:

Thank you for reading and I wish you well for the remainder of this turbulent year. I'll be back in touch in 2024!

In solidarity, Tansy.

p.s. Here are some photos from the #NowWeRise Global Day of Action for Climate Justice demo that took place in 50 countries around the world to mark COP28. In London we marched from the HQ of BP to the HQ of BAE Systems.