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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 October 2007

The Socialist Reviews

It's a free world

a film by Ken Loach

GOING TO the cinema is normally a pleasure but last Thursday was also a privilege as I attended and was asked to speak at the special preview of Ken Loach's new film, It's a free world.

Glenn Kelly, Unison national executive, (personal capacity)

The preview was called in support of the Newham Unison branch secretary Michael Gavin who has been suspended by the council for "showing a lack of loyalty to the council". Addressing the preview Michael said that "his loyalty was to the workers and union members he represented".

In introducing the film and giving his backing to the Unison campaign, Ken Loach launched a scathing attack on the Labour party saying "the Labour party was no longer the party of Labour" and, "it had turned his stomach to see Brown shake hands with Thatcher".

The film is set in Leytonstone, east London, and tells the tale of the exploitation of both 'legal' and 'illegal' migrant workers. Unusually the story is told through the eyes of the exploiter Angie, a victimised worker herself, struggling to care for her child.

She turns to being a small time gangmaster to make a living, lining workers up in a pub car park every morning farming them out like slaves to factories.

This is too much for her own father who challenges her saying: "I thought these days were gone," posing the question: what hope would there be for a decent job for her son when he grows up, when these workers were being paid less than the minimum wage.

The film shows some of the graphic conditions that these workers are forced to live in, in what was effectively a derelict caravan site, more reminiscent of a shantytown.

If this is the plight of the legal workers, for those illegal ones things are even worse. Egged on to make more money Angie is told to use "illegals" as "no passport equals no back chat and no problem workers".

Resistant at first at fear of being caught she is persuaded by being shown an actual case of a gangmaster running thousands of illegal workers who was only given a warning letter as his punishment!

Driven on to make more money, the last elements of humanity are driven out of her. Having helped out an Iranian family living in a freezing shed she later sinks to new depths, calling in the immigration services to deport and clear out the camp site, only so she could then move in a new group of Latvian illegal workers who had paid her 250 for the privilege of being exploited.

Angie's plans come unstuck when the bigger crooks in this chain of abuse fail to pay her 40,000 she's owed.

Not being paid for weeks, the migrant workers demand she help them to feed their families but she refuses to use the money she has.

Denied any legal or organised recourse some of the workers wreak their own revenge on a boss who has ignored their plight.

It is hard to watch this film and remember that it's happening today just streets from where we were sitting and under a Labour government. This film again demonstrates that the government will do little to resolve such exploitation and there is a desperate need for the unions to actively organise these workers and fight for justice.

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In The Socialist 4 October 2007:

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Socialist Party reviews and comment

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It's a free world, a film by Ken Loach

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