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U.S. Labor and Working Class History

Guide to library resources in U.S. Labor and Working Class History.

Labor History Films

 We list here a selection of the more significant films concerning labor and working class history, documentaries and fiction based on real events and people.  Check the Library Catalog to see if RUL has titles you would like to view (see the informaton on the Media Center below for circulation and viewing policies).  Or, check Netflix, the Internet, and other online media sources.

DOC: Documentary; DRAMA: Dramatization

American Dream (1992) Directed by Barbara Kopple. The story of the Hormel strike, by the Academy Award winning director Barbara Kopple.  DOC

At The River I Stand (1993) Directed by David Appleby and Allison Graham. From  Film and History : "One of the most powerful documentaries about the workers movement, At The River I Stand dramatically captures the turbulence of the 1968 strike by sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, which became—tragically—one of the most important events at the civil rights movements as well."  DOC

1877, The Grand Army of Starvation. Part of the American Social History Project, this 30-minute film examines the summer of 1877,  in which eighty thousand railroad workers walked out, jointed by hundred of thousands of Americans "outraged by the excesses of the railroad companies and the misery of a four-year economic depression.  The violence resulting from the clash of police and militia with the strikers resulted in death and injury. The uprising is seen as the beginning of a new era of conflict in the industrial age. DOC

Harlan County USA (1976) Directed by Barbara Kopple. Covers the efforts of 180 coal miners on strike against the Duke Power Company-owned Eastover Coal Company's Brookside Mine and Prep Plant in Harlan County, Kentucky in 1973.  DOC

Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl (1994) American Social History Project. The world of the immigrant worker in New York City in 1909 and the "Uprising of the 20,000", as seen through the eyes of Ida and Angelica, two young Jewish and Italian immigrant women.  DOC

The Inheritance (1964) ACWU. The Inheritance is a classic labor history film which focuses on the immigrant groups that formed unions in the early 20th-century.  Sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, it focuses on the garment workers.  DOC

The Killing Floor (1984) Directed by William Duke. The story of two young African-Americans who migrate from the South to the Chicago stockyards at the beginning of World War I. Though fiction, the story is based on real events.  DRAMA

The Life and Times of Rosie The Riveter. (1980) Directed by Connie Field. A wonderful history of the "Rosies" who worked in the factories during World War II and who were forced out when the men returned. Told by by five of the "Rosies" themselves.  DOC

Matewan (1987) Directed by John Sayles. A tale of the bitter clash between union and coal company, told with the beauty and simplicity of folk ballads.  DRAMA

Newsies (1992) Directed by Kenny Orgeta, starring Christian Bale. A Disney film about early-20th century news boys who organize (and sing while doing it).  DRAMA

Norma Rae (1976) Directed by Martin Ritt, starring Sally Field, Ron Leibman. Based on the real life story of Crystal Lee Sutton, a textile worker who joined forces with a labor organizer to unionize a southern mill.  DRAMA

Organizing America: A History of Trade Unions (1994)  Cambridge Research Group. Presents the struggle of American labor against the backdrop of major events that shaped American society as a whole.  DOC

Out of Darkness: The Mine Workers' Story (1992) Labor History and Cultural Foundation. History of the United Mine Workers, contrasted with the 1990 Pittston Strike.  DOC

Salt of The Earth (1954) Directed by Herbert Biberman. Gripping story about the struggle of a New Mexican mining community for better working conditions, which explores roles of women, class and human dignity.  Available on the Internet.  DRAMA

Silkwood (1983) Directed by Mike Nichols, starring Meryl Streep and Cher. The fictionalized story of Karen Silkwood, who struggled for safe conditions at the nuclear plant where she worked, and was mysteriously killed.  DRAMA

10,000 Black Men Named George (2002). Directed by Robert Townsen, starring Andre Braugher and Charles S. Dutton.  This well-reviewed, made for television film dramatizes A. Philip Randolph's drive to organize sleeping car porters in the early 20th century.  DRAMA.

Union Maids (1977) Directed by Julia Reichert. The fascinating story of Sylvia, Kate and Stella, who tell the way things really were back in the days when people risked their lives and jobs to organize trade unions.  DOC

With Babies and Banners: The Story of The Women's Emergency Brigade (1978) Directed by Lorraine Gray. The "untold story" of The Women's Emergency Brigade, the working women, wives, mothers, sisters, who were the backbone of the 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike.  DOC

The Wobblies (1979). Directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer.  This documentary on the International Workers of the World, or Wobblies, charts the rise and ebb of a labor movement that many people still find inspirational.  It includes interviews and historical footage.  Available on the Internet.   DOC

    Labor Film Guides




    Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor   by Tom Zaniello (ILR Press, 2003).

    Labor Films Online

    There are many feature-length films relating to labor and labor history available online. Here are just a select few. Below them, you can find some shorter videos, including newsreels and clips from documentaries.

    Labor History Videos Online

    YouTube is an excellent source for newsreels, documentary clips, and footage relating to labor history. Here are a few highlights:

    Haymarket Martyrs--Origin of International Workers Day, PBS - Part 1 Part 2 | Part 3

    Bread and Roses: The Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912

    AFL and CIO Split, 1935, Newsreel

    President Nixon Intervenes in Postal Strike, 1970, TV Coverage

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