North or South, anyone who’s ever worked as a courier or care/support worker, or grew up in a working class nuclear family household, will have serious déjà vu watching the new Ken Loach film.
Grades. Punctuality. Detentions. You wake up in the morning, get your school uniform on, march to the bus stop, hope you’re not late again, spend hours in boring lessons taught by overworked teachers, learning about things you’ll never get to do or see. GCSEs, apprenticeships, university degrees, whichever, only to end up in low-paid work or unemployment anyway, what’s the point? Only friends, petty vandalism and video games provide some relief.
Algorithms. Stats. Routes and zones. You wake up in the morning, get your work uniform on, march to the van/car/scooter/bike. You clock on, pack up the deliveries from the depot, and get them to where they need to be. You try to squeeze in as much work done – it’s “your” business after all and you need the money, right? You clock out. You come back home, retire on the couch. Maybe you’re lucky and get to have dinner with your family (if your kids are not out with friends and you partner's not working a night shift again).
Rotas. Clients. On-call shifts. You wake up in the morning, wake up the kids, get your work uniform on, march to the car (or bus stop, if you’ve hit hard times). From house to house it is, visiting the old and the poorly, helping them around the house, doing basic chores – if you’re unlucky there’s some bodily fluids to clean up. Fill in this form, fill in that form. Work’s not over, back home there’s more chores to do, gotta take care of the kids. No agency workers available tonight – will they call you in again?
Rinse and repeat. All the time you’re hounded by managers and bosses, while politicians promise pies in the sky. More, more, and more. The stress of it all brings your family to the brink, as you all blame each other (despite knowing it’s not really your fault). But if you’re lucky you’ll pull through, and finally put aside some money for that home of your own that you’ve always dreamed of...
In essence, this is what Ken Loach’s new film, Sorry We Missed You, is all about. North or South, anyone who’s ever worked as a courier or care/support worker, or grew up in a working class nuclear family household, will have serious déjà vu. Compared to another recent film about low-wage work in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, with an eerily similar title – Sorry to Bother You – Loach is much less upbeat. It’s hardly subtle or experimental. No leaps into the fantastical here. In a way, it’s nothing we’ve not seen before from British social realist cinema, except for the focus on the service industries (which now make up approximately 80% of UK GDP). Which raises the question – who is it really for? The nearest venue to show it was one of those art-house faux-independent cinemas. £12 a pop…
For “middle class” viewers the take away may be obvious: “I’m glad that right now I have a more meaningful job, but how can we help out these poor souls? Should probably vote Labour, duh!” And this may be all that Loach, a darling of the Labour left and a Corbynite himself, is trying to achieve here. Let’s alleviate the conditions of those most clearly downtrodden by getting the attention of the chattering classes and the media. But those with a longer memory may still recall that things were not much different under Labour – we still went to school and then to work only to be exploited for the bosses’ benefit. Details might have changed, but the reality remains the same. Wage slavery with nary a chance of a brighter future. Things have got worse since 2008, yes, but Labour’s not going to stop another crisis – inherent as these are to capitalism’s dynamics. Voting for this or that party is not going to alter those dynamics.
For working class viewers, this will be a pretty relatable if depressing trip to the cinema which, to Loach’s credit, doesn't propose any solutions, so we can come to our own conclusions. If we get one thing out of it however, it should be that whoever we are, wherever we work or study, in whichever part of the world, we have some things in common. In order to survive we have to sell our labour power. We’re not the ones to blame for the state of the world, because we’re not the ones running the show. Behind the scenes there’s an extensive network of capitalist relations which control our lives at school, at work, and at home – central among them: State, Nation and Capital. But it doesn’t have to be like this, we can really “take back control”. Whether it’s Durham teaching assistants1 , Teesside construction workers2 , or Liverpool couriers3 , the working class is fighting back, even if in little steps for now. Relearning the lessons of the past, rediscovering collective forms of struggle. And not only in the UK.4 No matter how bad it gets, we’re not alone – and we know life doesn’t have to be spent toiling for profit. We can reshape the world in our image – that of solidarity, cooperation, and freedom – as workers have tried to in the past. Beyond the State, Nation and Capital there is a new society waiting to be formed where
"Production and distribution would be oriented towards the needs of people, society’s work would be more fairly divided and could be decisively reduced. Art, culture and science could freely develop and would no longer be the privilege of certain social classes. On the basis of material security, freedom and social equality, for the first time in the history of humanity the formation of real individuality would be possible. […] But a socialist society can only be spoken of when commodity production, classes and states have disappeared on a world level. Only then can the association of the free and equal become a reality and “the free development of each the condition for the free development of all.”" For Communism: An Introduction to the Politics of the ICT
And when capitalism is gone, we won’t miss it!