The 1974 Play For Today ‘Leeds - United!’ depicts the real power of action and the passion of words produced when workers are involved in class struggle, argues Tony Dowling
In February 1970 women textile workers in Leeds took unofficial strike action to demand equal pay with male workers. As part of the BBC’s Play For Today series, an episode entitled “Leeds - United!” depicting the strike, and first shown in October 1974, was recently broadcast on BBC1.
The filmed play was written by acclaimed actor and writer Colin Welland. His mother-in-law was involved in the strike and he conducted lengthy interviews and document research for his script.
The outline of the plot you can find by a quick internet search, but I want to pay tribute to Welland’s script, the direction and the wonderful performances.
The scenes of the union town hall meetings, the mass outdoor rallies and speakers’ contributions at those meeting are the most authentic dramatisations of workers self-organisation that I have ever seen portrayed on film.
The acting and direction are breathtakingly and spine-tinglingly real in a way I have rarely, if ever, seen captured elsewhere.
In many years as an activist I have attended great numbers of meetings and rallies at which ordinary workers have made fantastic and passionate speeches. And there have been occasions where the fragile and fractious disagreements and disputes between the the floor and the top table have been heated and angry.
But never before have I seen the reality of the passion and emotion which is generated in genuine workers’ debate so well observed by actors and so truthfully committed to screen by the director.
Far too often such scenes in films and dramas are excruciatingly contrived, so obviously staged and so painfully wooden that it becomes embarrassing to watch. And you often wonder if the writers or directors or actors have ever themselves been to a real meeting.
There is no risk of that here though.
If you want to get a sense of what real workers’ struggle and self-activity is like; if you want to see how inspiring that struggle can be, then watch this play!
But be quick, it is only available on the iPlayer until this Friday!
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Tony Dowling is a teacher, socialist, trade unionist, antifascist, anti-war & anti-cuts activist. He is currently chair of North East People's Assembly and a member of Counterfire.
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