Eleven movies to watch on Labor Day that are actually about labor
Happy Labor Day! If you have the day off, and want to show some appreciation for the people who got it for you, then find your closest striking workers and walk the picket line with them. But if you’re feeling a little less ambitious but don’t want to be a total ingrate, you can watch a movie. Not Labor Day, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. And not just a film that takes place on Labor Day, like A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy, as good and old-fashioned as the film is. Check out one of these!
1. Matewan (1987). Directed by Jon Sayles, with Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, and David Strathairn. Cinematography by Haskell Wexler. The film is fictional but based on the true story of the 1920 coal miners’ strike in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia, against the Stone Mountain Coal Company. Chris Cooper plays Joe Kenehan, an organizer for the United Mine Workers and former Wobbly who must organize the miners and fight against the company’s attempt to pit Black and white workers against each other.
2. Bread and Roses (2000). Directed by Ken Loach, with Pilar Padilla, Adrien Brody, Elpidia Carrillo and… George Lopez. I know. George Lopez doesn’t scream social justice indy film, but Bread and Roses is one of the few movies to explore union organizing is a contemporary, rather than historical context. The film doesn’t overly romanticize the labor movement either, and shows the complicated racial and cultural dynamics often at play.
3. The Organizer (1963). Directed by Mario Monicelli, with Marcello Mastroianni, Renato Salvatori, Gabriella Giorgelli. The film is about exploited textile workers in Turin, Italy at the end of the 19th century. Professor Sinigaglia, played by Mastroianni, is helps organize a strike and transitions from intellectual to organizer. The film was nominated by the Academy Awards for best screenplay.
4. Harlan County (1976). Directed by Barbara Kopple. This amazing verite documentary captures the 1973 strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. After miners join the United Mine Workers of America, the Eastover Mining Company refuses to sign their contract. The film justifiably won an Academy Award for best documentary.
5. Salt of the Earth (1954). Directed by Herbert J. Biberman with Juan Chacón, Rosaura Revueltas and Will Geer. When life gives you
lemons, make lemonade a Blacklist, make a production company. That’s what blacklisted director Herbert Biberman, producer Adrian Scott, theater owner Simon Lazarus, and blacklisted screenwriter Paul Jarrico did, when they founded the Independent Productions Corporation. This film focuses on the mining strike in Grant County, New Mexico. The strikers, who were predominantly Mexican Americans, demanded that the Empire Zinc Corporation give them the same benefits and wages it gave white miners. According to the filmmakers, this was the “first feature film ever made in [the US] of labour, by labour, and for labour” and “a film that does not tolerate minorities but celebrates their greatness.” Actor Rosaura Revueltas was deported before filming ended and the last shots of her had to be filmed in Mexico and smuggled into the U.S.
6. Modern Times (1936). Directed by Charles Chaplin, with Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman. Chaplin’s iconic tramp character appears for the last time in this classic comedy famous for its hilarious assembly line scene.
7. Nine to Five (1980). Directed by Colin Higgins, with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Three women exact revenge on their sexist, exploitative boss, in this hilarious comedy. So, conservatives, if you don’t like union,s meet the alternative!
8. Roger & Me (1989). Directed by and starring (duh) Michael Moore. In this often hilarious documentary, Michael Moore tries to track down GM CEO Roger Smith to discuss what he did to his home town Flint, Michigan. In addition to learning a lot about labor and capital, you’ll learn a lot about your colors and will find out if you’re a fall, winter, summer, spring.
9. Milagros Been Field War (1989). Directed by Robert Redford, with Rubén Blades, Richard Bradford, Sonia Braga, Daniel Stern, Melanie Griffith, John Heard, Christopher Walken. Raise your hand if you saw this film in the theaters when you were eight!
10. Silkwood (1983). Directed by Mike Nichols, with Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell, Cher. Warning: not a knee-slapper, like, at all. Nor is it a good film to show people considering going into labor organizing. The film is based on the true story of Karen Silkwood, who worked at a nuclear power plant and became whistle blower and labor union activist. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Meryl Streep), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Cher), Best Director (Mike Nichols), Best Screenplay (Nora Ephron, Alice Arlen) and Best Film Editing (Sam O’Steen). It won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Cher), Best Motion Picture, and Best Director (Mike Nichols)
11. Newsies (1992). Directed by Kenny Ortega with Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall. Got kids? Show them this musical movie about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. Also, check out Christian Bales’s New York accent, which he would resurrect for American Hustle.
Also, if you are going to a Labor Day party, you’re definitely going to want to learn this dance. #LaborMovementJazzHands. Check out Christian’s moves.
These are other films that I really want to see and/ or that people have recommended. Since I haven’t seen them, I can’t officially endorse them. But I can unofficially.
Norma Rae (I know. I can’t believe I haven’t seen that, either! Don’t tell anyone)