Review

Belonging: The Truth behind the Headlines, directed by Morag Livingstone, Livingstone Media, http://www.belonging4us.com/

[Featuring: Tony Tinley, Ian Bestwick, Frances O’Grady, Joe Rollin, Matt Smith, David Condliffe, Stephen Goodison, Mick Gardner, Paulette North, Dick North, Brett Sparkes, Terry Smith, Henrietta Hill QC, Paul Malyan, Dave Scarrett, Paul Dawson, Barry Heath, Pat Rafferty, Stephen Deans, Ailis Deans]

A simple synopsis of the in-depth focus of Morag Livingstone’s film, in which she investigates, reports upon and further reveals events involved around three industrial disputes over a three-decade-long timeline, would in fact be complex. On a cerebral level, the documentary examines the specific motives of political figures, police and particular media heads, through scrutinising and showcasing details about such as the meetings they held and then the actions they took during said three decades and three industrial disputes. This vertiginous height of scrutiny is juxtaposed alongside insightful human perspectives which sit firmly within the film’s heart.  

The Anglo-Irish statesman, Edmund Burke (1729-1797), said: ‘The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse … The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Morag’s voicing of this quote takes us on an especially open journey along a particular road in history. Along this road, the film signposts towards and informs about means by which certain workers were singled out for vilification and certain corporations were glorified as saviours.

One such worker who was singled out is Stevie Deans, whose personal story and journey is documented alongside the wider picture involving union relations across time and place. Stevie is featured for a clear and heartfelt reason. In 2013, the Conservative government, in the form of David Cameron, publicly branded Stevie, a key Grangemouth Unite union lay official as a ‘… rogue trade unionist at Grangemouth who nearly brought the Scottish petrochemical industry to its knees’. Within her documentary’s epic story, Morag Livingstone places live footage of David Cameron stating this in the House of Commons in October 2013, juxtaposing it amongst footage of other union officials speaking of their own involvements and views surrounding parallel disputes.

In a post-screening interview with David Archibald, a lecturer in film and TV at The University of Glasgow, Morag answered his question about when and why she decided to start making this documentary by explaining that in 2013, in consideration of accusations against Stevie Deans which placed him as the power in force behind sackings and disputes at the plant, she was compelled to investigate. Morag openly spoke of the fact that having worked at Grangemouth refinery in the past she was moved to discover the reasons why one man was being singled out by the Conservatives.

Likewise, in an interview with newsocialist.org.uk in August 2017, Morag’s reasons for making this film were made clear: ‘… the PM had just accused a guy who’d worked at the same place for 25 years of damaging the oil industry, and in turn his and his work colleagues’ livelihoods – it didn’t make sense. When I looked at the media coverage I could see that no one was really asking questions of the company, or the government for that matter. For me things didn’t add up – if Stevie Deans (the ‘rogue trade unionist’) was such a bad man, why were 800-plus people willing to risk their livelihoods for him? The company [Ineos] had threatened to shut Grangemouth down, and yet the trade union was being blamed’.

Within a context of formally obtained FOI evidence, Morag’s film shows how and why conspiratorial plans to demonise union activism was hatched between powers in government, police and media at the highest levels. Connections are drawn between the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, sacking of printing staff at Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group in 1986 and the more recent 2007 postal workers’ strike.

Livingstone Media has created a film with humanitarian force, which informs its audience by throwing light on the truth about working people and communities harmed or destroyed by the fallout created through seismic change within corporations. Parallel revelations about pro-corporate, conspiratorial meetings and related, consequent failures in controlling forms of brutality against legal, union-backed protests made by both Scottish and English workers are writ large here.

In avoiding a purely academic proposition or such as a contextually historical, educational account of the oil and gas industry’s evolution and development since the 1900s, this film’s focus upon human stories and its drive for truth afford the film its thoughtful, thoroughly informative and heartening light.

Jackie Bergson has worked in the voluntary sector and commercial business development in technology and creative sectors. Educated in and living in Glasgow, her political and social views chime left-of-centre.

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