Class Struggle Cinema Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Stéphane Brizé’s award-winning At War (En Guerre) is a French
feature about unions, strikes and class struggle being released in
America shortly after Bastille Day, which commemorates that “other”
French Revolution. In this movie a German-owned company reneges
on promises to keep a factory open in an economically depressed
region of France, despite the workers’ sacrifices, agreeing to cutbacks
on wages and benefits, plus the firm’s receiving of subsidies and tax
credits from the French government. The “problem” is that although
the factory makes a profit, it is not profitable enough for shareholders
obsessed with “competivity” in our increasingly globalized planet.
In the workers’ fight to prevent the plant from closing and not lose
their jobs the proletarians resort to industrial actions that become
increasingly militant, including walking off the job, sit-down strikes,
occupations, etc. The failure of the French government and courts to
decisively support the strikers pushes them towards more direct
action. At one point the German CEO is roughed up after a failed
bargaining session.
The workers are led by the combative Laurent (played by Vincent
Lindon, who won France’s equivalent of the Oscar for playing a factory
worker in another movie by Brizé, The Measure of a Man), but after
two months of being on strike a faction of more moderate proletarians
relent and are willing to stop fighting and accept a severance package
from the company. Of course, this split divides and weakens the
workers. Laurent travels to the firm’s HQ in Germany where he stages
a final, desperate protest, leading to some concessions to the workers.
Although At War is full of militancy there is hardly, if ever, any
ideological, philosophical per se discussion of socialism, communism,
Marxism and so on. For the most part, the strikers do not engage with
other sections of the working class in an effort o seek solidarity and
support along common class interests. Exceptions are when the
workers on strike travel en masse to another plant owned by the same
German multi-national and some member of the French public send
small sums of money to support their industrial action. Some may
consider this film to be on the defeatist side, despite the workers’