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Films with and Economic Justice Theme

LABOR AND BIG BUSINESS (From the Democratic Socialists of America Website) Also check out our Guide to Labor Films, put together by DSA's Labor Activists, and Pacifica's Labor & Unions Films.

  1. 9-to-5 - Dolly Parton, Lilly Tomlin, and Jane Fonda are secretaries who unite to throw off corporate patriarchy in the persona of evil boss, Dabney Coleman. Check out the fanatasy dope-smoking scene.
  2. Agitator, The (1944) A British film about a socialist who inherits the ownership of a major firm and begins wrestling with his beliefs.
  3. Alien, Aliens and Aliens III An underlying message in this series, especially in Aliens, seems to be that unrestrained capitalism is monopolistic, deceptive, and inhuman, often with horrifying consequences. The film's Company men, along for want to bring back live specimens of Alien for use as biological weapons. There's a strong implication that the Company is ready to sacrifice individuals, whole communities, and ultimately human civilization, to the proft motive. At one point one of the humans says of the aliens that "at least they don't fuck each other over for a percentage." Doesn't paint a pleasant picture of the military as unwitting cannon fodder, either. It does, however, have a strong, intelligent, active female lead whose match can only be found in Sarah Connor's Terminator 2 performance.
  4. American Dream (1990, Barbara Kopple) Kopple's earlier 1976 documentary about striking Kentucky coal miners, Harlan County, U.S.A., might seem a more obvious choice. But American Dream speaks directly to the era of downsizing, and the waning power and focus of labor unions. During the long, painful strike at the Hormel meatpacking plant in Austin, Minn., we realize the union members are fighting each other while the employers hold all the cards." Review by Roger Ebert, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  5. Blue Collar (1978, Paul Schrader) The ending is purposely didactic, but the trip there delves into racial and union politics at a depth seldom matched before or since." Review by John Sayles, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  6. Business as Usual - A British drama about a woman fired for protesting sexual harassment, who inspires a nation-wide strike that successfully gets her reappointed. Along the way it portrays the failures of the labor movement as the result of collaboration, and is sympathetic to the Labour Party's Militant Tendency.
  7. Carry On at Your Convenience (1971) This is the tale of industrial strife at WC Boggs' Lavatory factory. Vic Spanner is the union representative who calls a strike at the drop of a hat; eventually everyone has to get fed up with him.
  8. A Christmas Carol -- This is certainly generally done as a parable about the need for the wealthy employer to be generous and paternalistic, rather than as a criticism of systemic inequality, but the 1951 Alistarir Sim version shows the Leftist nature of the parable very clearly - Christmas Present with Ignorance and Want under his robe!
  9. Eight Men Out - The loose history, directed by John Sayles, of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. The players received a pittance and turned to the only source of financial security they could find, the bookies. With stunning performance by John Cusack as the only player who refuses to go along, and a cameo by Studs Terkel.
  10. F.I.S.T. - Sly Stallone plays a young truck driver who organizes a truckers union, gets heavily indebted to Mafia guns in his rise to power, and then (dumb, dumb) tries to distance himself from the Mob. Loosely based on Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters, is very sympathetic to the difficulties of workers against armed company goons.
  11. Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948) John Garfield, as a gambling syndicate lawyer, is pitted against his brother who runs a small, independent bookmaking operation. Racketeering is portrayed as a form of monopoly capitalism. (Steve Press)
  12. The Funeral (Abel Ferrara, 1996) Christopher Walken and Chris Penn, gangster brothers involved in labor racketeering, are arranging the funeral of a third brother who had been developing leftist sympathies. (Steve Press) Germinal is the story of a group of coal miners in late 19th century France, and to me it had some similarities to "The Grapes of Wrath", even though the setting was different.
  13. Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) Set in Brooklyn during the 1940s against a backdrop of union corruption and violence. A prostitute falls in love with one of her customers. Also a disturbed man discovers that he's gay.
  14. Matewan - The brutal confrontations between mine operators and striking workers in West Virginia's coal fields during the 1920's. Created by writer/ director John Sayles in this stunning drama of diverse people united by a common goal (132 min.)
  15. Melvin and Howard (1980, Jonathan Demme) The Odyssey of the American working stiff. Media-driven dreams, divorce, restlessness, serial employment--like a wake-up call for the '80s." Review by John Sayles, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  16. Modern Times - Charlie Chaplin's classic take on the exploitation of the worker.
  17. Norma Rae - This 1975 classic of labor and feminist history tells the story of Norma Rae's struggle to organize her fellow textile workers in a small town in the South. Sally Field in Oscar winning performance, based on a true story.
  18. On the Waterfront - This hard-hitting drama about corruption in the Longshoremen's Union stands as a major achievement in American film. Without losing any of its dramatic force, it tackles complex social, political and personal issues. The implicit support for those who testified before the HUAC gives this McCarthy-era film a disturbing edge. (108 min.)
  19. Riff-Raff - (1991, Ken Loach) British socialist director Ken Loach takes you on a tour of a building site during the Thatcher era. The workers are exploited and underpaid; unions not permitted; conditions in which the men work are extremely hazardous. After one of the "mates" is killed because of unsafe equipment the workers strike back. The legacy of Thatcherism and the inept Labour Party seen through the eyes of the multi- ethnic crew at a construction site." Review by John Sayles, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  20. Roger & Me (1989, Michael Moore) This surprisingly successful film was a populist thumb in the eye of General Motors. Wearing a baseball cap and dingy windbreaker, Moore elbowed his way into GM offices and stockholder meetings, and documented what he considered the company's rape of his hometown of Flint, Mich. Yes, the film took cheap shots--but it took them openly and gleefully, and that was part of the fun." Review by Roger Ebert, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  21. Salt of the Earth - LAB Tells the story of a New Mexico zinc miner's strike that was taken over by the wives of the miners when they were prohibited from picketing. Most of the film crew was black listed in Hollywood in 1954 for doing this film. This movie remains a stirring demand for worker unity and sexual equality. (94 min.)
  22. A Taxing Woman (1987, Juzo Itami) The individual's relationship to the group and to the state in modern Japan, played out in a duel between a love-hotel franchiser and a tax investigator. How many movies make you want to hang with an IRS agent? " Review by John Sayles, in Mother Jones, 1996"
  23. Thieves' Highway (Jules Dassin, 1949) Richard Conte is a truck driver who takes on crooked wholesaler Lee J. Cobb, who has been playing the drivers off against each other.
  24. Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger is a brainwashed Martian cop on the run, or maybe just a tripping Earth-bound worker on holiday. In any case, a corporate fascist government is exploiting workers on Mars and somethings got to be done about it.
  25. The Triangle Shirt Factory Fire Scandal - LAB Real-life drama of the tragic sweatshop fire in 1911 New York that awakened public awareness, as seen through the eyes of four women that worked there. Starring Stephanie Zimbalist, David Dukes and Tovah Feldshuh. (98 min.)
  26. Tucker: The Man and His Dream - is the true story of Preston Tucker, a brilliant automobile designer of the 1940s who overcame extraordinary obstacles to realize a lifetime dream- the manufacture of his own "car of tomorrow, today." Instead of embracing the higher standards and innovative features advocated by Tucker, Detroit manufacturers forced him out of business. Although his dreams were crushed by big business during his lifetime, Tucker's extraordinary vision made him immortal. (111 min.)
  27. Union Maids - A documentary about three women in the Communnist Party who organized in the Back-of-the-Yards meatpacking district of Chicago in the 1930s. DSA's own Vickie Starr stars as "Stella Nowickie". Out of Control - A 1990 documentary which combines firsthand experiences of workers and industry experts to explain the deterioration of worker safety in the petrochemical industry (30 min.) [OCAW Visual Productions, PO Box 2812, Denver, CO 80201]
  28. Wall Street - The archetypal film of 80's corporate greed, graft and decadence.
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