British film director Ken Loach has turned down an award from the Turin Film Festival in a show of solidarity for fired film-museum workers.
The 76-year-old director was due to receive a Gran Premio Torino lifetime achievement award. Loach said his refusal to attend the festival is because of a labour dispute at the festival’s parent organisation, Turin’s National Film Museum.
Cleaning and security staff at the museum refused to accept salary cuts after their jobs were outsourced, and several workers fired. Loach said his gesture was a show of support for them: “It is with great regret that I find myself compelled to refuse the award... However, there is a serious problem, namely the issue of outsourcing services that are performed by low-paid workers. As always, the reason is to save money and the company that gets the contract therefore reduces wages and cuts staff. It is a recipe designed to fuel conflict. The fact that this happens across Europe does not make this practice acceptable...
“After a cut in salaries, workers have complained of intimidation and ill-treatment. Several people have been laid off. The worst-paid workers, those most vulnerable, have thereby lost their jobs for opposing a wage cut... It’s not right that the poorest people have to pay the price in an economic crisis for which they are not responsible.
“We made a film dedicated to this topic, ‘Bread and Roses’. How could I not respond to a request for solidarity on the part of workers who were fired for having fought for their rights? To accept the award and limit myself to a critical comment would be weak and hypocritical behaviour. We cannot say one thing on the screen and then betray it with our actions.”
The museum released a statement in response, explaining that the outsourcing of cleaning and security services had been carried out after a competitive bidding process and as legally prescribed: “It displeases us that a great film director, someone we have always admired, has been badly informed....”
The film-festival organizers announced that the scheduled screening of Loach’s movie ‘The Angels’ Share’ has been cancelled. The film is about a group of men at a whisky distillery and won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
This is not the first time the socialist director has refused an honour. In 1997 he turned down an OBE, explaining later: “It’s all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest. I turned down the OBE because it’s not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it.”