Bread and Roses Rapid Response: Update

BBC Creative Director of New Writing

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To celebrate The Bread and Roses Centennial 1912-2012, we asked for scripts to respond to the themes of the Centennial; workers rights, particularly women workers rights, strikes, protest, immigration and capitalism.

We were looking for bold, engaging and intelligent writing, fresh characters, perspectives and ideas, by writer's, who feel passionate about the stories they want to tell.

Although we were impressed by the range of ideas and approaches, on this occasion we did not feel that any of the scripts were powerful or emotionally engaging enough to capture the spirit of this brief and so we didn't feel that we could select any winners.  But thank you for all your entries.

Please read the full statement below from our judge, Paul Laverty.


Statement from Paul Laverty:

I understood the brief in this competition was to choose a script that best celebrated, even in the most tangential or unexpected of manners, in whatever genre,  the spirit of the iconic Labour dispute in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1912. In essence it was about some of the most marginalized of immigrants, mostly women, split among many languages and cultures,who came together (with the help of the Woblies) to take on the might of the Woolen manufacturers who were backed by the national guard and private militia.  It was a real David against Goliath confrontation.  The workers won, an amazing feat for the times, by incredible imagination, bravery, and organisation. The stories of their children being brought up to New York to be supported by Italian workers, met in Grand Central station, singing songs, so the families wouldn't be starved out are quite stunning. In further transportation of children, parents were attacked by the National Guard. There was tremendous violence on the front line and some workers were killed. Some of their supporters were framed with murder and the entire power of the State was mobilized against them. 

The slogan BREAD AND ROSES, came from this dispute too, which has echoed down over a hundred years. In other words, workers having some possibility of not only the basic means to survive, but the right to all the beautiful things in life that make us fully human.

The idea behind the competition, as I understood it, reminded me of the words of the brilliant historian Howard Zinn, who wrote in his magisterial account of the US as follows:

On history, from the introduction to ‘A People's History’.

“I don't want to invent victories for people's movements. But to
think that history-writing must aim simply to recapitulate the
failures that dominate the past is to make historians collaborators
in an endless cycle of defeat. If history is to be creative, to
anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I
believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden
episodes of the past when, even in brief flashes, people showed
their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am
supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in
the past's fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid
centuries of warfare. That, being as blunt as I can, is my approach
to the history of the United States. The reader may as well know
that before going on."  

I recognize that many of the scripts were skillfully written, but what was striking was the tone. Many ended in betrayal, self defeat, even suicide, and the pointlessness of resistance. Resistance is often ridiculed or easily bought off. Most of them involve characters who are totally isolated in the face of the employer or the State. Empathy is virtually non-existent, and totally unlike the actual dispute, any intelligence and wit in the face of power seems absent too.
I have great sympathy for writers who create a whole story from nothing. It is always an enormous effort.

But I also have the deepest respect for what these men and women, the most marginalized of immigrants achieved in 1912. Their actions do resonate down through the century, and are very relevant today.
It is with great regret, but in my judgment, for what it is worth, none of the scripts I read, wrestled with the spirit, complexity, contradictions, passions, intelligence, imagination and sacrifice in the face of power, that these workers demonstrated in such abundance in 1912.  It might be a relief to the writers concerned, (and to me too) to know that I never intend to be a judge in any writing competition again.
Good luck.  
Paul Laverty.

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