Who built America?  How did they survive the constant struggle, the strikes, the stress?  Find out in these fine films. And read how Lewis Hine took the picture above in “Icarus — The Photo that Flew.”

1.  MATEWAN (1987) — In 1920, miners and coal company thugs squared off in a little town in West Virginia.  Filmmaker John Sayles didn’t have to make up much to dramatize the Battle of Matewan with its immigrant flavor, shotgun violence, and sheer hope.  As one critic wrote: “You get the feeling of dirt, sweat, and — despite the story’s mythic intentions — the grim gray struggle of it all.”

2.  HARLAN COUNTY USA (1977) — See “Back to Harlan County” in The Attic

3.  BOUND FOR GLORY (1976) — While mostly a biopic about Woody Guthrie, this Best Picture Oscar nominee also portrays the hardscrabble organizing of “Okies” in the agricultural fields of California.  

4.  ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) — A “contendah” for the top 10 American films of all time, this classic shows the dark side of labor unions as mob bosses wrestle for control of longshoremen in Hoboken, NJ.  With Rod Steiger, Karl Malden, and a sountrack by Leonard Bernstein.  Oh, and this guy Brando:

5.  NORMA RAE (1979) — During the 1970s, the Textile Workers of America struggled to unionze the J.P. Stephens Mill in North Carolina.  One woman, Crystal Lee Sutton, led the fight.  This is her story, told without apology or exaggeration.  Sally Field won the Oscar.

6.  BREAD AND ROSES (2000) — Alas, this is not the movie that someday MUST be made about the legendary “Bread and Roses” textile strike in 1912.  (Hey, didn’t I write a book about that strike?) But the film carries on the Bread and Roses spirit in portraying the Justsice for Janitors strike in modern L.A.  



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