Sheffield Radical Film Festival commemorates International Workers’ Day and trade unionism in the city

The Sheffield Radical Film Festival hosted three talks throughout the city centre on International Workers’ Day on 1 May. 

One of these covered the topic of strike action both nationally and internationally. 

This followed a screening of Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses film, presented by Community Kino. 

Community Kino is a community cinema based at 20 Union Street, Sheffield. It has described itself as: “a social commons of film, food and discussion”, and displays and considers films that cause conversation. 

The film displayed was based on the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Justice for Janitors campaign that began in the US and Canada in 1990. This was in regards to the low wages and minimal health care janitorial workers received, which were both illustrated in the discussion. 

Jordan Blake, co-founder of Community Kino and organiser of the film festival, said: “Successful campaigns and pay rises have been won in the private sector and this shows people that they can organise their work places and revive a bit of history of trade unionism in Sheffield.” 

Also attending the event was the Sheffield Trades Council, which applied the struggles workers faced in the film to contemporary working class action. 

Bob Geoffrey, who works with the Sheffield Trades Council’s Sheffield Needs A Pay Rise campaign, said: “The fundamental problem with the left in this country is that there’s just too few of us. We need a hell of a lot more of the working class and I believe we can do that through trade unions. 

“Companies are sucking the pay out of deprived communities. Wealth is extracted from some of the poorest communities from our city and beyond.”

The SEIU have also funded the Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise campaign, which has highlighted the use of zero-hour contracts in Sheffield, including at Sheffield Hallam University and Cutlery Works.

Annie Lawson-Foley formerly worked as a bartender at Cutlery Works and in cooperation with Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise.

She said: “The work conditions were terrible. All our conversations had to happen hiding behind a wall from the manager.”

The Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise campaign organised a community call out in which councillors and union representatives went into the workplace on multiple occasions to speak to her manager. 

This seven-month long campaign resulted in the workers winning a 44% pay rise, guaranteed hour contracts and improved health and safety and personal protective equipment. 

Ms Lawson-Foley said: “When you are in a job like that with no guaranteed safety net, what have you got to lose?”
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Written by Andrea Lewis

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