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.