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A film industry in public ownership: a proposal worth reviewing?

11 April 2011

Editor and member of the National Executive Committee, Peter Cox, has updated his 2010 introduction to the ACTT document Nationalising the Film Industry, published in 1973.

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In August 1973 the ACTT (one of the unions that came together to form BECTU in 1991) published this report Nationalising the Film Industry which was the culmination of approximately eighteen months work by an open forum of several dozen members.  The forum had been set up after both the ACTT annual conference and TUC of 1971 had carried resolutions calling for the nationalisation of the film industry without compensation and under workers’ control.

An industry in crisis

In the early seventies the industry was in crisis: the American money which had financed the production boom of the fifties and sixties had gone, MGM Studios at Borehamwood had been bulldozed, Shepperton was under threat from asset-strippers, and the small amount of support from the then Nation Film Finance Corporation had been cut by eighty percent by the new Tory government of prime minister Edward Heath.

Confronting this crisis directly in the light of the 1971 resolutions, the report made an in-depth analysis of the entire industry and its history, proposed a detailed model of how a publicly-owned industry could work, set out what workers’ control actually means (“we are not seeking sinecures for the idle and untalented”) and called for a wide-ranging discussion as a way forward, even with those who disagreed.

Things did not quite pan out like that.  Within weeks of publication the right-wing of the union, actively assisted (to their shame) by the Stalinist wing, organised a massive coup within ACTT which attacked and sidelined the authors of the report and effectively buried it.

Amazing creativity

It remained buried for thirty-seven years, during which time working conditions steadily deteriorated, although the film and tv production community has shown amazing creativity in keeping itself going despite living a life of almost continuous crisis.

The purpose of re-publishing the report in 2010 wasn’t and isn’t to mechanically impose it on today’s industry but to examine the ideas which inspired it, ideas which have long been thought dead, buried and forgotten.  World events in the first quarter of 2011 have added a sharp relevance and urgency to such a examination.

It is sixty pages long.  It cannot be read in web-surfing mental mode.  It should be printed out and studied.  The environment?  That’s doomed anyway unless there is workers ownership and control of industry on a world scale.

Peter Cox
March 2011

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