Ken Loach: “The working class is weak. They can be turned on or off like a tap. That’s built into the system.”

Filmmaker speaks out at Cannes 2019 as he launches Sorry We Missed You

British filmmaking institution Ken Loach has never been one to shy away from tackling the trickiest of sociological issues in his films. On the contrary, he has made it such a consistent preoccupation that it could even be summarised as the defining motivation for his life’s work. As you might therefore expect, this ethos extends to his latest offing, Sorry We Missed You, which focuses on the cruel machinations of zero-hour contracts and the fickle gig economy. In talking about the film, he talked around it too. Here is what he had to say.

Things Have Changed – “When I was young, and for many years after, you were told that if you had a skill or a craft you would find a job for life and you could bring up a family on the wage. The inexorable change has been from that security to insecurity – where people can be hired and fired at a day’s notice, and where people are on contracts where the employer makes no commitment to how much work they will get or how much they will earn. Or they work through agencies which, again, has no security. Or, as Chris is (in the film), being so-called ‘self-employed’, where the worker takes all the risk and the employer is in the fortunate position where they take no risk and the worker has to exploit his or herself.”

Corporate Pleasure – “It’s the perfect situation for the big companies: they have no risk and the worker has to run himself into the ground without being told to. No strict boss to crack the whip. That’s the inexorable change that’s happened. It’s not capitalism failing. It’s capitalism working as it always will.”

System Failure – “(Things will get worse) as long as the big corporations are fighting it out for supremacy. How do they do it? They do it by providing the best service or goods that they can for the lowest price. How do they get the lowest price? By cutting wages. It means weak trade unions and vulnerable workers. That means the working class is weak and they can be turned on or off like a tap. That’s built into the system.”

 Left or Right? – “(In Britain) we had what we called ‘fake left’ politicians, like Ed Miliband and Blair – and we don’t even mention him now – but they talked about this mythical beast: ‘caring capitalism’. Everyone’s talks about it but no one has ever seen it. Where is it? If we believe in the free market, that leads to the big corporations taking power. And that leads to this competition to lower wages and that, in turn, leads to precarious work. It’s an inevitable set of consequences. It will only change when we fundamentally restructure.”

Turn Left – “The only bright spark on the horizon in the last few years in Britain is that we have had a left leadership in the left party (the Labour Party). Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have promised to cut back the power of capital. The smears on them have (since) been extraordinary. And they will get worse. If they seriously attempt to change that balance of power and give power back to people, then they will face unprecedented attacks and all kinds of undercover smears.

Loach’s Labour of Love – Despite that, the Labour Party has become the biggest party in Europe with over half a million members. It has the potential for success and to be part of a European left. To me that is the possibility of hope, but my god is it going to take some defending and it’s going to need some international solidarity too. It’s the first sign of Spring, so look out for it, hang on to it and give it your support, please.”

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