the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

16 March 2010

Peter Cox, editor and NEC member, has dusted off his copy of the ACTT's Nationalising the Film Industry, published in 1973. Does the document have something to teach us in 2010 or is it purely a reference work?

Here, Peter Cox introduces the publication which can be accessed here.

In August 1973 the ACTT (one of the unions that came together to form BECTU in 1991) published this report Nationalising the Film Industry, written by an open forum of several dozen members which had worked for approximately eighteen months.  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.

It has remained buried for thirty-seven years.  That working conditions have steadily deteriorated over that time is no mere coincidence.

Examine the ideas

The purpose of making the report available here in 2010 is not 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.

In stressing the importance of reading and discussing the report at the level of ideas, there are two boxes it’s important to think outside of.  The first box is the corrupt Westminster political bubble, which cannot and will not accommodate these ideas. Therefore let us not permit the ideas to change to fit the box, which has been the curse of the politics of workers’ rights for over a century, but let the box (the system) change to fit the ideas!

Closer to home, the other box to think outside of is a bunker mentality which would see the union as a kind of pentecostal mother-ship and which would demonise non-members as freeloaders.  The great example of the report is that it aspires to leadership of the entire industry based on the highest principles.

Constructive, collective engagement with these ideas is essential if BECTU is to rise to the challenges immediately upon us.

Peter Cox
3 March 2010

Nationalising the Film Industry, published by the ACTT in 1973.  Unfortunately, the publication gives no information about rights holders for the pictures used. Rights holders of material which appears in the document are invited to contact Sharon Elliott, communications officer.