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Leeds - United! (1974)


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!

In February 1970, 30,000 clothing workers go on strike across Leeds, Yorkshire and the North East.

Mollie, Annie and other John Black's workers return after a week's strike, unhappy at the deal negotiated by their union. Women workers, balancing family responsibilities, are proud of their skilled work, but tired and experiencing industry-wide low pay. An ASCAT representative thinks critics were overoptimistic.

Addressing Black's workers, Gridley recalls July's union conference, which rejected their request for a shilling-per-hour increase. Employers agreed fivepence for men and fourpence for women, saying the union never demanded more. Gridley and female workers want a shilling for men and women alike. Workers vote to strike, opposing employers and a union Gridley describes as cowardly. Hearing the workers' defiant songs, their employer blames Bentham's boss for their separate, generous deal - Bentham's boss raised pay to push faster working.

Black's striking workers march Leeds, singing for a bob an hour. Sadie brings Boswell's colleagues out on strike. Maggie, Boswell shop steward, arrives late after seeing her sick mother. She wonders why Gridley did not join the strike committee. Sweatshop workers, sceptical until they realise strikers are fighting for all Leeds workers, ultimately join the strike, as do workers from Bent's.

After contact with the employer and ASCAT, union man Billy Crane refuses to meet unofficial strikers and recommends they return to work. He will meet Black's officially, then address its workers on Monday morning. Strikers stay out, and will meet outside Black's on Monday. Maggie and her partner Joe Pike discuss Gridley's agenda. Unions and employers claim workers blindly follow activists, which Mollie denies, and Maggie notes that non-political workers like Annie are involved. Maggie's mother is dying.

Monday: the union advises returning and claims the strike is specific to Black's, but a mass meeting proves it is a city fight. Picketers visit the North East. More firms join the strike: Joe's firm; one where strikers threaten to smoke workers out by burning paper; and another where women storm a gate. One worker trying to pass a picket says she has kids to feed, but Mollie replies that they all have.

The employers' Association meets. Black's boss counsels war against a few left-wing anarchists leading a mindless rabble. Bentham's boss is more amenable, needing union support for job cuts and aware the recent agreement favoured them. Financially more secure than others, Black's boss pushes a united statement refusing concessions.

Stringer's and Bentham's join the strike. One week in, the strike holds firm despite welfare concerns and threatened victimisation. Maggie and Joe attend Maggie's mother's funeral.

At a union meeting at Leeds Town Hall, 2,000 workers passionately reject union calls to return to work, angrily shouting down Gridley's claims that the strike is weakening. Joe believes the union will destroy the strike if they cannot control it. Dennis returns from Middlesbrough pickets citing poor wages paid to 15-year-old girls. Workers protest against the union and hold firm for an unconditional shilling increase. Union leaders pleading for a return to work are drowned out by songs of solidarity.

Employers bleakly consider new national pay negotiations. Outside the Town Hall, strike committee chairman Fred Packer tells a reporter his mandate is a shilling but they are open to offers. Packer and Gridley (who has criticised women strikers) meet individual bosses, then telegram the Association offering a return to work for an interim reward plus negotiations. The employers celebrate victory.

Maggie asks why the committee's telegram contradicted the Town Hall mandate - it implies weakness that employers and union will exploit. At Woodhouse Moor, a huge crowd shouts down Gridley. Shop stewards have voted to return, which Maggie attributes to underhand union tactics. The crowd resoundingly opposes returning to work. At the next day's strike committee meeting, Packer and Gridley propose returning. At Woodhouse, Maggie warned of union betrayal. Contradicting the Woodhouse crowd's endorsement of Packer's resolution to keep striking, one day later Packer reads a resolution to return. The committee agrees to end the strike. Joe calls politics the art of the attainable, and Mollie slaps him.

There follow lay-offs, lucratively for Gridley but just £5 for Peggy after 26 years' work. Mollie believes the women will fight again - without being sold short.