The horror of ″the lump″

Submitted by Matthew on 20 November, 2015 - 12:22 Author: Hugh Edwards

On Saturday 14 November, more than 100 people squeezed into the Three Minute Theatre in Manchester for a very rare showing of “The Lump”.

″The Lump″ is a film made for TV in 1967 by socialist Jim Allen, and produced for the BBC by Tony Garnett. It is an exposure of the corrupt building industry and the conditions of brutal exploitation and oppression of the workforce, especially of those trapped within the openly criminal, cynically violent, unregulated system of “the lump” — a government policy where workers were considered to be self-employed and therefore responsible for their own tax and national insurance.

The film′s enormous power and success does not reside in some “neutral” documentary style of presentation. Instead it is an unashamedly partisan and deeply moving account of the experience of several groups of workers on their respective sites as they confront and battle against the bosses.

The film exposes the workers′ cowardly conniving union leaders, the scabs brought off their ″lump″ sites to break workers′ struggles, and, of course the thuggery of the cops aiding them to break the workers resistance. The horror of ″the lump″ is shown in the film as two characters find themselves forced on to it as the blacklist takes its toll on their search for work. They are inevitably driven to rebel and into the tragedy that ends the film.

The character of Yorky, a student working on a building site during his holiday, embodies Allen′s central message — that the working class struggle is above all a political struggle to challenge and overthrow the capitalist social order, nationally and internationally. It is this lesson that Yorky increasingly comes to understand as he is swept up in the reality of the class struggle.

After the film producer Tony Garnett described the making of the film, his relation with Allen and how it opened the way for Allen to become the country′s leading political writer for television. Within a decade Allen produced other masterpieces covering working class history, including “Days of Hope” covering the events from 1915 until the General Strike of 1926 — the Stalinist betrayal of both the Minority Movement and the strike itself.

As Garnett explained more about ″the lump″ and the widespread blacklisting system, an elderly man in the front row politely interrupted him. The man was a former building worker, long blacklisted and like many others at this very moment involved in cases of compensation against those recently brought to light as responsible. As a young worker in 1967 he and others had seen the film, loved it and tried to organise showings through their union, but to no avail. Now that he had seen it again, he wanted to make sure younger workers in the trade are able to see the film because “they have never heard our history nor ideas like this, and this in spite of the fact that the conditions today are as bad, if not worse”.

No greater compliment could be made to the work of Jim Allen and its acute relevance to the working class struggle today.

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