“WHITE MATERIAL” (“all things owned by or being 'white' in a black culture”) is a French film with English subtitles directed by Claire Denis who co-wrote it with Marie N'Diaye and Lucie Borleteau. It is set in a non-specific time most likely in French West Africa. Black militants are in the process of driving the French from their land. The movie opens with a gruesome shot of bloody bodies of young Black men sprawled about in sheds and on the ground - - a scene that repeats at the end of the film. One of the drawbacks of “White Material” is that the time frame constantly shifts. Soon after the opening shot, it is one long flashback beginning with Maria Vial (a lithe, ageless, Isabelle Huppert) trying desperately to get a ride back to her coffee plantation.

Maria is the struggling daughter-in-law of Henri (Michel Subor) the bed-ridden owner of a coffee plantation in an area rife with unrest. Many white landowners are leaving or have already left. Maria's former husband André (Christopher Lambert) is as helpless as his father in the operation of the plantation but not because of illness - - André has given up. In fact, he wants to take his new family - - Lucie (Adèle Ado), who is Black, and their school-age son - - to France before they are driven out or killed. He tries to sell the land to a wealthy native businessman/politician Cherif, le maire (William Nadylam) behind Maria and Henri’s back. Maria and Andre's only child is a thirty-something Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a handsome (almost pretty) blond as useless as his father and grandfather. Manuel rarely gets out of bed in a room as dark as a cave. You feel his “otherness” and futureless life in such surroundings. So Maria does all the work and is in charge of the plantation’s field hands. Stubbornly, she ignores repeated government warnings to return to France. She will do anything to keep her land.

When all her workers disappear, she and her loyal, older, head man drive into town to recruit workers. (A flashback has her going into the pharmacy for Henri’s medication where she deals with the pleasant, Black pharmacists as though she were in a small town anywhere.) As she, her head man, and the new workers are processing the coffee beans after the harvest, she discovers a grisly dire warning in the hopper. The new recruits run off but meet a horrifying end on the road. Seeking protection, Maria drives back to town only to find it and its people destroyed; bodies everywhere including the pharmacists, drug store shelves stripped bare. In her absence, Black children run rampant on her property. They force Manuel into the brush with machetes and humiliate him profoundly, destroying his fragile hold on sanity.

The political uprising against the ruling corrupt government is headed by Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) who employs child soldiers led by Jeep (Ali Barkai); they set out to destroy the “white material.” Government soldiers invade Maria’s plantation and slaughter the children who have passed out after ingesting the looted drugs, and others in hiding(the opening scene repeated). Her life is radically changed not only by the loss of her coffee plantation, but also by a despicable act that shows how far she has fallen. Maria tries unsuccessfully to protect Boxer from the government and fails to save herself, her son, or her father-in-law.

Another problem with the film besides the jumping time-frame is its vagueness as to time and place. Also, one is unsure of who is killing whom when Blacks are murdering each other. In addition, unless one goes in knowing a little of the history of French colonial occupation, “White Material” can give an audience the wrong impression about Africa: that it is a volatile country and the majority of Blacks are hostile to Whites,and Blacks will arbitrarily form anti-government rebel groups that will kidnap children, drug them and send them out to slaughter or be slaughtered. People may not want to go to Africa. This could deprive visitors as well as the well-intentioned - - Blacks or Whites - - who may want to settle there of positive experiences and a rich life.

“MADE IN DAGENHAM,” is one of the best labor-oriented films to open in commercial movie houses in recent years. It is a touching, warm, and often humorous portrayal of British working-class life in the 1960s. And the struggle it portrays will leave you cheering. The film, directed by Nigel Cole; screenplay, William Ivory, is a dramatization of the 1968 labor-relations dispute and three-week strike by the sewing machinists at the Ford plant in Dagenham, England. Their victory was key in the fight to abolish wage discrimination against women, and helped to launch the feminist movement in Britain. Their militant and uncompromising struggle holds many lessons for the labor and social movements today.

The film opens on a scene of women working in a sweatshop atmosphere at industrial size sewing machines and cutters, making upholstery for the interiors of Ford automobiles. Many women have stripped to their underwear because of the sweltering heat. And when it rains, they raise umbrellas to protect their machines from leaks from the holes in the roof. Most of the women are married to men who work on the plant’s automobile assembly lines. (A lot of the women acting in the film are workers in real life, who were recently laid off from a Hoover plant in Wales.) Sally Hawkins plays the petite but spunky seamstress, Rita O’Grady.

The filmmakers captured the look of the late sixties suburban working class with the women’s beehive and flip hairdos, makeup and dress styles. There are great scenes of them bicycling to work in the rain and passersby bringing them food and hot tea during the strike. There are subplots involving the WWII vet husband of one of the women who meets a tragic end, making Rita feel guilty for pushing her agenda; and Lisa Hopkins (Rosamund Pike) the mother of her son's friend who coincidentally happens to be married to a wealthy Ford official, Peter (Rupert Graves) in an upscale, split-level home; yet despite Lisa's Master’s in English, he treats her like a maid. Rita’s friendship with Lisa illustrates the differences between the working class and the rich.

Albert Passingham (Bob Hoskins) a sympathetic union rep, announces that the women are being reclassified into less-skilled Category B jobs, and that they will be paid 15% less than the full B rate received by men. This news infuriates them; appalled, they grumble about what they can do to right this injustice. Rita, the most vociferous, is chosen as the spokes-woman to bring their grievance to management. When their written and vocal complaints prove ineffectual, they decide to strike. Management, and Albert, tries to talk them out of it, threatening that a strike would bring production to a halt and no one will get any money; how will their husbands put food on the table? The union bureaucrats also try to browbeat the women into staying on the job. The head of the local union, who calls his cohorts “comrades” and spouts half-remembered quotes from Marx, argues that the women’s fight against pay discrimination is really not very important in the scheme of things. And even worse, he claims, their militancy could upset the union’s plans for friendly negotiations with corporations on the national level.

Frequent meetings alienate the women from their families. Husbands and children complain of late or non- existent meals. Wives travel to other towns to rally support, husbands are left to cook, clean, and get the kids off to school. Rita’s husband, Eddy (Daniel Mays), at the point of leaving her and angry at having to sell things to make ends meet, wakes up to the fact that Rita takes care of him, the kids and the house, yet works at the plant all day. He rallies to her side.

They vote to strike; production stops; men are laid-off and the plant is closed. (The strike took place on June 7, 1968, followed by a strike by the machinists at Ford's Halewood Body and Assembly plant.) Subsequently, Rita, Albert Passingham, and the women meet with Ford’s top management attended by the Ford honcho from the United States to work out a deal to end the three-week old strike. They pompously shoot down the strikers’ proposal with cliché- ridden responses. But this doesn’t stop Rita. At an important union conference, Rita gives a simple but impassioned speech, which convinces a large majority of the delegates to vote to sanction the Dagenham strike.

By this time, the Dagenham women have been receiving national publicity. Their militant action is a thorn in the side of Harold Wilson’s Labor Party government, which is under pressure by the corporations to put an end to the strike wave now overtaking Britain. Rita takes the matter up with Barbara Castle (excellent, spot-on performance by Miranda Richardson), the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity in Harold Wilson's government. She had invited the women to meet with her. Castle intervenes and the strike ends.

Women got not equal-pay, but 92% of a man’s earning, but rising to the full category B rate the following year. Still, this ruling didn’t end as happily: a court of inquiry (under the Industrial Courts Act 1919) was set up to consider their re-grading, but it failed to rule in their favor and the women were only re-graded into Category C following another strike in 1984 lasting six weeks. In any case, the seamstresses’ actions in 1968 proved that perseverance and people have the power. Their actions led to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970 which came into force in 1975, and for the first time, prohibited inequality in terms of pay and conditions of employment between men and women in the UK. Yet in Britain today, women still receive an average of 17 percent less then men in similar job categories. Many companies routinely flout government regulations on pay equality—and get away with it.

And here, in the US, women still make 77 cents to a dollar despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act in 1963. One only has to read the details of conditions with which this act applies state-by-state to understand why the United States is still completely backward in its dealing with equal pay for women.

Michael Schreiber, editor of Socialist Action News, contributed to the "Made in "Dagenham" review.