Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Celebrating Radical Sheffield this International Workers’ Day

Sheffield Radical Film Festival aims to make this May Day a day of political education, reflection and action in the city. The organisers tell us more.

Spirit of 45 still

Still from Ken Loach's The Spirit of '45 (2013).

Film Fly / Sixteen Films

May Day has come to represent many things. For some, it conjures mental images of blooming floral displays, village fetes and jubilant children dancing around the maypole. For others, it's International Workers’ Day, a time for the workers of the world to come together and contemplate the victories of the past and the struggles that are yet to be won.

May Day was officially declared a public bank holiday by James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1978, in the face of criticism from Conservatives and business owners about the socialist connotations of the day. For many, though, it's an important time for reflection and action, and has been for some time. According to the Trades Union Council (TUC), Sheffield has been marking May Day with regular political demonstrations and rallies since 1894.

For Community Kino co-founder and festival organiser Jordan Blake, it’s vital that our city’s radical heritage is recognised this coming May Day.

“I really am interested in the political history of 1 May. It’s something that I feel like Sheffield has been sidelined on a little bit,” Jordan explains.

“A lot of people travel to Chesterfield for the May Day gala. We will be having a march through the city, as we have for the past couple of years, and I just thought: wouldn’t it be great if the event was more than just a march? To have a cultural event for the people, something to get everyone more involved in the celebration.”

This is where Sheffield Radical Film Festival comes in. The event is very much a collaborative project, organised in equal parts by the fledgling but hugely popular Community Kino, who want to honour Sheffield’s rich heritage of radical film through community cinema, political education group Sheffield Transformed and Sheffield TUC. For those keen to get involved, the day will kick off at noon with a march from Devonshire Green to City Hall, where crowds can pause to hear a number of guest speakers.

At 2pm, the event will move on to the Quaker’s Meeting House for the festival itself, which promises a unique double-bill of Ken Loach films. Bread and Roses, along with a discussion on strike tactics from the TUC, is up first, followed by The Spirit of ‘45, which will be accompanied by a workshop from Sheffield Transformed. Whilst this selection may seem like an easy way to draw in the crowds – Ken Loach is, after all, the king of evocative socialist cinema – Jordan points out that there are some important local links to be found.

“The first film, Bread and Roses, is a drama based on a true story about a successful strike of precarious workers. It shows their organisational techniques.

“Unions like these have been really successful in Sheffield recently, particularly on the issue of pay, and the TUC have played a big part in that. For example, the Cutlery Works team, all precariously employed, won a 45% pay rise in 2022 through good organisational tactics and techniques from the trade union.

“So we thought, what better way to celebrate May Day than with a successful story, expressed through cinema, which we could then link to our own success story in Sheffield? The talk will then touch on what can be learnt from those events, to help that success spread to other sectors.”

Community kino
Community Kino

The second film, a documentary on the formation of the welfare state after the Second World War, has also been chosen to get people talking about politics, a key goal of Sheffield Transformed. Mark Seddon, co-founder of the group, hopes the film and subsequent workshop will help stimulate political discussion in a way that is enjoyable for all.

“There are a lot of things in politics that are, necessarily, quite serious – a lot of hard work,” Mark says.

“We want our events to be interactive and accessible, so people can get involved, and genuinely fun, so people can have a good time. The Spirit of ‘45 will provide some inspiration and then we’ll have the workshop, The Spirit of ‘23, which will give everyone the chance to talk about how we can make a better world.”

Beyond these two screenings, the organisers also want the event to be a hub where attendees can learn more about the labour movement, activist groups and how to help others in Sheffield.

“We want people to know that they are supported and that they can seek help to become organised,” notes Jordan.

“The event will have a notice board that shows how to get involved. ACORN will be there, as well as the Socialist Worker’s Party… There will be all these coordinates of the struggle there for people to access, whatever suits them, to get involved in any way they can.

“With us all being there, I want there to be a sense of community and at the end of the day, it’s a celebration. I think May Dasy is that kind of traditional celebration of what we’ve achieved so far, and how strong we are together.”

Learn more

Tickets for Sheffield Radical Film Festival on 1 May are priced at a very reasonable £7 for both films or £3.50 each via Eventbrite.

More Democracy & Activism

More Democracy & Activism