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Occupy! (1976)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Pictures and footage of previous factory occupations are shown: Turin in 1919; General Motors in Flint Michigan in 1936; and Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) in 1971. The 1971 occupation of the Fisher-Bendix factory is then introduced: after having 12 different managers in 12 years, it is under threat of closure. Freda Staples recalls starting work at the plant, and film of her recollections are intercut with a member of the theatre company performing her words.

Jack Spriggs, a convenor of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW), explains the dispute's background, and an animated sequence shows the plant's chequered history of ownership, leading to current owners Thorn. The theatre company performs a scene of confrontation between workers and management about redundancies and the planned closure of the plant. The confrontation ends with a strike.

The theatre company's performance and workers' recollections describe how during the strike the plant's workers break into the plant's office buildings. Spriggs offers management ten minutes to reconsider closure plans, and when refused, allows them five minutes to leave the factory entirely, which is now occupied by workers. TV footage shows the management leaving the building.

Spriggs addresses an occupation meeting, offering workers the choice of accepting management's offer, but recommending rejection. The workers vote in favour of continued occupation. Spriggs then explains how the workers seized the employment files to prevent the management's access to workers' details. Workers explain how the occupation was organised through the formation of committees with separate responsibilities.

Over footage showing the factory under occupation, a female worker explains the struggle for equal pay within the factory. Another worker says that occupation and strike action breaks up the monotony of the work he hates. A TV reporter interviews Spriggs, who explains that they are effectively holding the plant's owners to ransom by seizing control of the plant's machines and stock; other workers tell how they have been threatened with redundancy each of the last eleven years. Clerical staff who were not union members recall how they were relocated to a local hotel.

Spriggs addresses another meeting. Local MPs Eric Heffer and Harold Wilson visit the occupied factory, where Heffer expounds on the unemployment situation and calls on a vote for Labour at the next general election. Workers explains how 50,000 local signatures of support were collected, and artists, filmmakers and poets visited the occupation.

Thorn commit to keeping the plant open. The theatre company perform a skit showing the subsequent transfer of ownership of the plant to Harold King through the mediation of businessman Ivor Gershfield. King declares a new era of realism, guarantees continued work and moves his fruit-juice manufacturing operation from London to Kirkby. Nevertheless, under pressure of debt, King calls in the receivers and secretly prepares redundancy notices.

Spriggs explains that the occupiers considered invading the branch of Barclays Bank in Liverpool in order to provoke the receiver into responding to the their demands. As some workers are ordered to return to work, others join them in continuing to occupy the factory and work under their own management. Cleaners join the occupation, and work, including cooking and scrubbing floors, is shared out between male and female workers. The clerical staff and manual unions are reorganised, and the administration block is briefly occupied. Spriggs explains his own devotion as a union convenor to Fisher-Bendix and no other plants, and reflects on others' tactics.

While the plant is still occupied, a new Labour government is elected, and an appeal is made to the new Secretary of State for Industry, Tony Benn, to nationalise the plant. Through a grant of nearly £4m, King is bought out and the plant is established as a workers' co-operative. Workers explain how taking over the running of the plant has not been without its difficulties, including equal pay and the role of foremen. In a final scene from the theatre company, an actor declares that the fight against job losses, and ultimately capitalism, must continue. After the film's credits an appeal appears to support the fight against the new Criminal Trespass Law which would make occupations like the one at Fisher-Bendix illegal.