Havana Glasgow United

As the cost of living crisis has deepened over the last couple of years, and people have seen their living standards consequently eroded, trade union resistance to the situation has strengthened, and people like Mick Lynch, in his role as Secretary general of the RMT, have become folk heroes. Kicking back against an era of declining trade union membership, in a work environment characterised by increased deregulation, people – and young people in particular – have been rediscovering the power of being in a union.

One of the most exploitative and deregulated industries has traditionally been the hospitality industry, normally associated with short term, dead end jobs, performed by students or recent, time-killing graduates. If in France being a maitre d’ is an esteemed position to aspire to, working front of house in Britain certainly does not carry the same cachet.

Unite Hospitality are setting out to change all that, improve working conditions across the sector, and have achieved some notable successes. In a recent landmark decision, GFT has become the first cinema in Scotland to sign a voluntary recognition agreement with the union, who now represent hospitality staff working there, consolidating the cinema’s efforts to provide the best possible working conditions for them.

In recognition of this, Havana Glasgow Film Festival is proud to host an evening of screenings and discussions to explore the possibilities of transforming the hospitality and tourism sector in both cities.

The screening will comprise two films on the theme of historical women’s activism in both cities. “Mi Aporte” (My Contribution) is arguably Cuba’s first feminist film, a documentary by the country’s first woman filmmaker, Sara Gomez, following a women’s consciousness raising meeting where they discuss the existing inequalities caused by gender in Cuban society at the time.

Glasgow is represented by the classic “Red Skirts on Clydeside”, a work from 1984 by the women’s film collective The Sheffield Film Cooperative, tracing the history of the Glasgow Rent Strikes, with priceless interviews from the daughters and granddaughters of women involved.

Ahead of the screening, I spoke to Jamie Caldwell, a member of and activist with Unite, whose work as a cartoonist brought him to our attention, and who’ll also be doing a panel with on us on Cuban animation.

How did you become involved in the trade union movement? 

I’ve always been a trade union member since starting work, I come from a trade union family it’s just what you do when you work, and became a unite rep at the age of 22 in my workplace and would say when I really started getting heavily involved and sparking a real interest in history of trade union movement everyday people doing extraordinary things! 

 What do you see the role of unions as being today?

Same role as it always was, in its conception to give a collective voice to working people, and through that collective push for a fairer society. As Pete Seeger sang ‘Poor folks ain’t got a chance/Unless they organise’ 

 We’re celebrating GFT’s partnership with Unite Hospitality – how significant do you think this is?

It’s massively significant for hospitality workers here in Glasgow and the rest of the world, and shows GFT for what it is, becoming known for being a place and a platform that promotes inclusivity. 

You use cartoons as a way to spread the message. What do you think is the role of cartoons and satire in exploring and promoting issues?

Like every art medium it can be used to carry a message in a different way that it can help engage, and maybe in some way educate or question something for someone who would never have been engaged before. Politics is an education in the way the world works, which is very complicated. If it wasn’t, we would have figured it out, I see art, music and culture as a necessity in the fight for social justice, it is not a ‘Luxury”.  I love the art of cartooning to be the aim for simplicity, and in that is the question ‘How can I simplify this?’ In that question you’re creating a stepping stone for someone, or planting an idea. 

Are there any cartoonists that you particularly admire?

Bob Starrett, who was a ship painter and chef propagandist during the USC work – in for his wit and gallusness. Tony Hall, who learnt his skills as a political cartoonist during the ‘Fleet Street’ dispute. Tony Hall’s cartooning is sublime, with his line work and clean-ness. 

What political animated films would you recommend viewers to look out for?

“Team America: World Police” for its satire – agree or disagree with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I admire their boldness.

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