EXCLUSIVE: British director Ken Loach has been suspended from holding a decision-making role at Bectu amid simmering internal tensions at the UK’s biggest film and TV union.
Loach, who has made films including Kes and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, has been ousted from Bectu’s Writers, Producers & Directors branch committee after a 60-year association with the union. Two others were also suspended and six more members faced disciplinary measures.
Those involved said they were punished because of a technicality over the way the branch oversaw the resignation of a representative, who wrote a letter raising questions about the leadership of Mike Clancy, the boss of Bectu’s parent union Prospect.
Prospect argued that the individuals concerned broke union rules and it said there was evidence of bullying and discrimination. Loach and others disciplined strongly denied bullying and discrimination and claimed that Prospect had not produced evidence to support its allegation.
There has been years-long disquiet at Bectu after the union was merged with Prospect in 2017. Bectu stalwarts, including Loach, believe film and TV workers have not been well-served by the merger and others have complained of a clash of cultures.
Loach told Deadline that he had been treated unfairly and said the accusations against the Writers, Producers & Directors (WPD) committee were “groundless.” He accused Prospect of “waging war” on the branch after the union’s national executive committee voted in favor of disciplinary action.
“The [WPD] committee has felt harassed and impeded in its work for some years,” he said. “No union is perfect … but the people of Prospect have no idea what it is like to be a freelance worker in the film industry.”
Loach added that the disciplinary action was taken without transparency. He accused Prospect’s executive committee of refusing to release information about its decision-making process, including the resolution for disciplinary action and meeting minutes.
Prospect issued a strongly-worded response in which it “categorically” rejected accusations of unfair treatment and said Loach “did not take the opportunity to fully engage with the investigation.” Loach said he engaged as fully as he could while he was on the film festival trail with his latest feature The Old Oak.
Those on the receiving end of disciplinary action have sought legal advice as they consider their options. The union said Loach and others can appeal the decision.
A Prospect spokesperson said: “By rendering a partial account of the process he [Loach] is breaching confidentiality of an ongoing process. Confidentiality is necessary to protect those who were at the centre of the issues that arose.
“The investigation was conducted by the national executive committee following evidence that some representatives had potentially broken the rules. This included evidence of bullying and discrimination. The process was exhaustive and conducted in accordance with the rules of the union.
“The disciplinary sanctions reflected the findings of the investigation report and the national executive committee made decisions in each case on its merits. To suggest they are part of a ‘war’ shows there has been an absence of reflection since the national executive committee reached its conclusions.
“The Bectu sector of Prospect is one of the fastest growing parts of the trade union movement. Suggesting that Prospect does not understand the nature of freelancers is deliberate deflection from the serious issues under investigation.”
Loach said he planned to retire from the WPD branch committee next year, regardless of his two-year suspension. He said: “A blast of fresh air through the union is what we all need. We’ve been over these issues before, so for now, a merry Christmas to all.”
Gerry Morrissey, Bectu’s former general secretary, could not comment on the disciplinary proceedings, but said he was saddened by Loach’s suspension.
Morrissey said the director had raised the profile of the union, helping secure front-page national newspaper coverage for its dispute with Picturehouse Cinemas. “Even if people don’t agree with all of his political views, there’s no doubt whatsoever that he’s loved by Bectu members,” he said.
Morrissey added that he also had disagreements with WPD branch during his 12 years leading Bectu. “We were very reluctant to discipline representatives or members of the union. We would always find a way through by talking to each other,” he said. “It’s sad that this hasn’t been achieved on this occasion.”
Prospect said: “We are incredibly proud of Bectu’s record of standing up for and delivering change for both freelance and employed workers post-merger. Bectu, within Prospect, has increased its profile and influence in the creative industries, playing a leading role in addressing many issues that affect freelancers, including precarious working, cuts to the arts, and bullying and harassment.”