EXCLUSIVE: Ken Loach has said the UK’s biggest film and TV trade union is at risk of failing vulnerable industry workers as years-long tensions at the labor rights group have come to a head.
The renowned socialist filmmaker said Prospect, which merged with Bectu in 2017, was not acting in the interests of members after four women quit the union’s top committee in a protest against management.
The Kes and The Wind That Shakes the Barley director said there had been a “clash of cultures” at the union following the merger, which he argued had been “damaging” to the identity of Bectu.
Loach, a member of Bectu and its previous incarnations for 60 years, did not support the merger and was articulating the concerns of others, who have harbored doubts about the coming together.
Tensions spilled over earlier this month when three Bectu members resigned from Prospect’s National Executive Committee (NEC), a group that oversees the work of the union. It followed the resignation of a fourth Bectu member last October.
Sources familiar with the NEC resignations said there had been clashes over budgets, accessing information, and disciplinary action against Bectu members deemed guilty of breaking union rules. Sources said the women were painted as “troublemakers” as they sought to hold Prospect decision makers to account, including general secretary Mike Clancy.
Prospect said Bectu members voted by a large majority to merge in 2016 and that the union had flourished under its leadership, growing membership numbers by more than a third to 37,000. Prospect added that it had eased financial uncertainty at Bectu and invested in the union, making it the “largest and most influential it has ever been in its proud history.”
Loach: Bectu Members Should Call The Shots
Loach told Deadline that Prospect appeared more focused on growing membership numbers than protecting film and TV industry workers from potential exploitation.
“Our idea of a union is one in which members call the shots,” he said. “Prospect officials seem to be more interested in control rather than in working together with the members and really carrying out members’ wishes. The officials are more worried about telling us what we should do, rather than listening to what we say.”
Loach added: “People in the industry are very vulnerable. There are a lot of young people desperate to get experience and this leaves them open to exploitation. People are joining Bectu because they see the need for a union, particularly younger members. We need a clear voice so all the members can feel confident that it is their union.”
Loach, winner of Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake, said he had first-hand experience of the dividing lines between Prospect and Bectu.
Sources said he raised a personal grievance in 2021 after a Prospect official accused him of anti-Semitism on Twitter following his expulsion from the Labour party. Loach was a supporter of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was criticized for failing to tackle anti-Jewish sentiment in the political party.
Loach argued that the Prospect official’s tweet was defamatory. The official later apologized and said his remark was “inappropriate and without justification.” Clancy, Prospect’s general secretary, said at the time that it was “not the Prospect way” for officials to attack the union’s own members.
BAFTA winner Loach said the four women who resigned from the NEC “spent a long time trying to make it work,” but ultimately found it “tough going.” Deadline knows the identity of those who quit, but all four declined to comment and asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. They remain Bectu members.
Sources said there were cultural differences on the NEC. Those who quit all work in the creative industries, whereas other members of the NEC come from sectors including nuclear, defense, and the Forestry Commission.
“They’ve got no truck with creatives,” said one source. This person admitted that film and TV industry members were a “vigorous bunch,” known for applying journalistic rigor to internal debates, but said that it was unfair to suggest that they were “unruly.”
Bectu is the biggest sector within Prospect, but there is a risk that it could be underrepresented on the NEC following the resignations. There is no guarantee that the women will be replaced with Bectu members. Currently, just two of the 30-strong NEC hail from the creative industries.
Internal dissatisfaction was also evident in propositions put forward for the upcoming Bectu conference in May, according to a document seen by Deadline.
Members of the Writers, Producers & Directors Branch called for a “comprehensive review” of the relationship between Bectu and Prospect. Another proposal, which was later withdrawn, said Bectu should produce a report on “de-merging” from Prospect given its “reluctance to fully engage with Bectu sector members and their reps.”
Prospect: We Are Proud Of Bectu
One source close to Prospect acknowledged that it had not been entirely smooth sailing since the merger, but they said that internal disagreements were not unusual at trade unions and that there were plenty of positives to emerge from the partnership.
Clancy and Philippa Childs, the head of Bectu, are said to have a good working relationship. Clancy’s decision to keep the Bectu brand alive was welcomed by many. Childs has been praised for campaigning against Channel 4 privatization, promoting the rights of freelancers, and tackling bullying and harassment in film and television.
A Prospect spokesman said: “The Bectu sector of Prospect is one of the fastest growing parts of the trade union movement, with a new generation of freelance and self-employed workers getting involved in shaping the future of the industry.
“We are proud of Bectu’s growth, profile and influence in the creative industries, and the leading role we have played for example on protecting public sector broadcasting, standing up against cuts to the arts, and speaking up for both freelance and employed workers throughout and in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Bectu members voted by a large majority to become part of Prospect, something which took place in 2017. Since then, we have enhanced and invested in Bectu as a key part of Prospect and it is now the largest and most influential it has ever been in its proud history.
“Becoming part of Prospect allowed financial pressures faced by Bectu to be stabilised, ensuring both its governance and support for members has been extended since 2017.”