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A Bug’s Life to Billy Elliot: 7 best socialist films to watch this Labour Day bank holiday

You’ll find some left-wing icons in Chicken Run.

International Workers’ Day is celebrated around the world and marks the struggle for workers’ rights including fair and safe working conditions and the right to unionise. Also called Labour Day in the UK, US and Canada, it is a public holiday.

May 1 was chosen by the by the American Federation of Labor when back in 1886, a general strike was called with socialist parties and trade unions campaigning for an eight-hour work day.

So invite your comrades and put on one of these socialist masterpieces.

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Chicken Run

Over two decades later, Chicken Run is still a revolutionary masterpiece, a brutal take-down of the capitalist society that exploits our very bodies for mass consumption. The Tweedies couldn’t care less about the wellbeing of workers whose efforts have built them their empire, and live as egg-machines in the confines of their prison-like coop. On the discovery that a pie-machine – a chicken pie machine – has been installed on the farm, it’s time to break free. 

It’s an ode to the power of group organising, the creativity and unity involved in overthrowing the boss. With the plucky Ginger at the helm, no chicken gets left behind.

Parasite

From director Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite shines a light on the capitalist exploitation necessary to keep the luxuries enjoyed by those at the top of the food chain, flowing. From their tiny basement in a slum district of Seoul, South Korea, the Kim family bounce between low-paid dead-end jobs. But when Ki-woo charms his way into tutoring the daughter of a wealthy family, the family sees a way in to increasing their lot. They outmanoeuvre the rest of the homes’ existing staff, showing how poverty pits desperate people against each other.  

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This chilling thriller really gets going on the discovery of the secret, squalid living quarters underneath the family home, where staff have been leeching off their employers upstairs to stay alive. It’s gloriously disturbing.

Antz

Hardly the most nuanced addition to this list, this is a “world just like our own” where worker ants exist only to serve the Queen. Misfit worker Ant Z feels trapped by the conformist confines of the totalitarian ant civilisation he was born into. Watch out for the Marxist slogans chanted by the ants as they protest their servitude. But when this member of the proletariat falls in love with a princess, you know something revolutionary is about to happen. 

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Billy Elliot

Set in the north-east of England during the 1984–1985 miners’ strike, the story follows 11-year-old Billy who rejects his fathers’ wishes of being a boxer, to secretly learn ballet. 

When Billy’s father, Jackie, attempt to cross the picket line of the striking miners to “give the boy a fucking chance” at perusing his dreams, must surely be the most touching scene in this glorious film. Jackie’s willingness to put aside his pride, his deeply held beliefs all for something he doesn’t understand but for love of his son, is deeply moving, and an ode to the deep sacrifices made by all striking workers.

Jackie follows his older son Tony, back across the picket line, and agrees to accept money from his fellow miners and local community to help get Billy to his ballet audition. 

A Bug’s Life

“The ants pick the food, the grasshoppers eat the food, it’s a bug eat bug world out there, someone could get hurt,” explains the blood-curdling leader of the grasshoppers, Hopper, forcing the residents of Ant Island into terrified submission.

After the grasshoppers demand even more grain to compensate for his failed invention sabotaging the harvest, Flik leaves the colony to search for some bigger bugs to help him overthrow the grasshopper overlords. Mistaking a misfit circus troop led by a flea ringmaster for warriors, Flik brings them back to the island to help them build a giant bird. One for oppressed bugs everywhere. 

Released two years before Chicken Run, this Pixar classic celebrates the power of the little guys to overthrow the big guys, with a nod to the inventions that powered the industrial revolution. 

A Muppet Christmas Carol

Everything the Muppets do is about the collective over the individual. Whatever your political standpoint, you’ve got to hand it to puppet-master Jim Henson, who managed to sneak messages of social justice, liberalism and equality into American discourse at the height of Reaganism.

This is undoubtedly the best version of the classic Dickensian Christmas tale, which sees Kermit the Frog take on the role of Bob Cratchit, and you know the rest. If you can watch the scene when it shifts from the joyous One More Sleep ‘till Christmas, to the homeless rabbit shivering in the street with a dry eye, you’ve got a heart of stone.

Sorry To Bother You

Cassius Green (Cash-is-green) is sofa surfing in an old garage and going through an existential crisis, before finally getting work as a cold-caller. Struggling to get any sales, he finds that he excels when he uses his “white voice”, throwing him into a world of power, elitism and debauchery. 

Meanwhile, his friends join a rebellion group to fight for their workers’ rights, forcing the viewer to question which side they would be on – exploiter or exploited? It’s surreal, hilarious, and asks who we become when we clock-in to the rat race.

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