Films on Unions

Harlan County, U.S.A.

Documentary 1976 PG 103 minutes. Director Barbara Kopple’s film about the 1973 coal miners’ strike in Harlan County, Ky., won a Best Documentary Oscar and was selected for the National Film Registry. Highlighting the struggles of families living in shacks with no indoor plumbing and enduring hazardous working conditions, the film details the conflict between the Eastover Mining Co. and the laborers determined to join the United Mine Workers of America.See Full Review

American Dream

Documentary 1990 PG-13 102 minutes. Documentarian Barbara Kopple weighs in with an unsettling account of the months-long strike of employees at the Hormel meatpacking plant, juxtaposed against the Reagan administration’s demolition of the nation’s air traffic controllers’ union. In Austin, Minn., in 1984, Hormel strikers found themselves picketing during the worst climate for organized labor since the 19th century. Kopple won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1991.

The Last Mountain

Documentary 2011 PG 1hr 35m. This is a gripping documentary that follows ordinary citizens in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley as they wage a campaign to prevent the infamous Massey Energy Company from expanding ruinous mountaintop removal mining operations. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the people of Coal River for show us that corporations have to be held accountable for their greed and belief that profits trump life.See Full Review

Koch Brothers Exposed

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr. Koch Brothers Exposed reveals that the Koch Brothers have launched a large network attacking American values — from their environmental pollution, to their efforts to dismantle social security for working Americans. This revealing film investigates the richest 1% in America at its very worst — the Koch brothers’ racist, and anti-environmental, and anti-middle class politics. The Koch brothers’ net worth tops $50 billion, and they pledged to spend $60 million to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.See Full Review

Waiting for ‘Superman’

Documentary 2010 PG 111 minutes. Dynamic documentarian Davis Guggenheim weaves together stories about students, families, educators and reformers to shed light on the failing public school system and its consequences for the future of the United States. It’s no wonder that “Superman” was the recipient of teachers’ dirty looks, since it says that the two unions covering most public-school instructors are bloated with bureaucracy and indifferent to children’s intellectual welfare, and perceived “Superman” as a takedown of unions.

The Coca-Cola Case

Documentary 2009 NR 85 minutes. In Colombia, companies are allegedly hiring hit men to murder union leaders. Now, three American activists are bringing a lawsuit against one of them: Coca-Cola! This is a documentary about the lawsuit against Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta for supposedly turning a blind eye to their bottlers licensee in Columbia for hiring paramilitary groups to murder union leaders in Colombia. Over 8 union leaders of Colombian Trade union Sinaltrainal has been murdered one after another. Excellent film! Time well spent. I learned a great deal.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Documentary 2009 R 127 minutes. Filmmaker Michael Moore (Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11) takes on capitalism’s roots, the floundering U.S. economy, and 2008’s global financial meltdown and subsequent bank bailout in this rousing documentary. Combining stories about those who suffer most from Corporate America’s greed and insatiable thirst for profits and the people most responsible for myriad crises, Moore embarks on another shocking fact-finding rampage. Included is a story about how corporations broke the unions in the auto factories in Detroit.

Let’s Make Money

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 47m Let’s Make Money is not about how to make money. This film traces money as it goes through the global finance system — exposing policies and practices affecting the worldwide economy. This film is about the billions, trillions of dollars that go to selfish human greed and not to basic human need. This shows the planetary marketplace from all perspectives: wealthy investors, business owners, bankers, laborers, activists, government officials, impoverished people — from all around the globe. See Full Review

Howard Zinn
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Documentary 2004 NR 78 minutes. Matt Damon narrates this documentary chronicling Howard Zinn’s commitment to social change through archival materials, commentary from Zinn and interviews with contemporaries Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Hayden and Alice Walker, among others. See Full Review

The Big One

Documentary 1997 PG-13 90 minutes. Another subversive journey from documentarian/provocateur Michael Moore poses this question: At a time when corporations are posting record profits, why are so many Americans still in danger of losing their jobs? Armed with only a camera, tons of sarcasm and a heartfelt sympathy for the American worker, Moore searches America’s heartland and embarks on a one-man campaign to persuade Fortune 500 companies to reconsider their downsizing decisions. Title of documentary refers to Moore’s suggestion for a better name for the United States of America.


Docudrama 1987 PG-13. Well-intentioned labor leader Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) arrives in Matewan, W. Va., to unionize the the coal mine workers. But his efforts to organize the coal company workers spark one of the most violent incidents in the history of the 1920-21 Coal Wars. Tensions grow between the minors and the company men, igniting a powder keg of racial hostility, corruption and betrayal. John Sayles directs; James Earl Jones also stars.


Docudrama 2007 NR 104 minutes. Inspired by a true story, this powerful drama tells the tale of an ordinary woman who helps spark a revolution in Poland. Single mother Agnieszka (Katharina Thalbach) works as a shipyard welder. Concerned about dangerous working conditions, she speaks up — to no avail. But after an accident kills several employees, and their families are denied pension benefits, she steps up her activities, laying the foundation for the Solidarity movement.

Poland – The Morning After

Documentary Frontline 1990. In the summer of 1989, Poland astonished the world by starting the revolution which has swept Eastern Europe. Solidarity, the once-banned independent trade union, took power in a coalition government ending 45 years of Communist repression. In this report, Frontline examines a society attempting something which has never been done-changing overnight from Communism to capitalism.

A Matter of Sex
(The Willmar 8)

Docudrama 1984 TV-14 1hr36m. After watching male workers pad their salaries with high-paying promotions, disgruntled female bank tellers stage a protest for union rights. A Matter of Sex is a capable labor-management drama that demonstrates the blinkered sexism and routine chauvinism in a small-town Minnesota bank in the late 1970s. It is so sad that women, just 30 years ago, were met with such discrimination in the workplace. Yes, things have changed and for that, I am grateful…but, there is still a long way to go, in my opinion. Men wouldn’t tolerate being paid less money than a woman for doing the same job, and neither should a woman have to. This film shows that equality in the workforce is a much needed and deserved practice. The power of a small group of people standing united for a cause can set the foundation for equality for all. Do a little research and you’ll see the movie was very truthful to the real events. My mother was one of the Willmar 8 portrayed in this movie (Doris Boshart). I grew up on the picket line, spent two summers there with these women. It was quite a time in our small town. In this movie, Hollywood definitely took some liberties, but all in all it told the story pretty well. This is one of the best and most uplifting movies I have seen in a long time. It shows how a group of people can bond together for a common cause when it is important to them. What was really sad was how the town residents, even the priest were telling the ladies to take their place and quiet down. After 415 days on March 23 1979, the bank president resigned from the bank and they thought they won. But the labor board ruled against the women, mainly due to technical reasons and they weren’t entitled to back pay and could not have their jobs back. We all know that is bull. But the movie proved the point that losing the battle doesn’t mean that you lost the war. Somehow they win – even tho they ‘lose’. These women went on to empower all women workers in America. This should be a must see movie for all.

Norma Rae

Docudrama 1979 PG 118 minutes. In an Oscar-winning performance, Sally Field is unforgettable as Norma Rae Webster, the real-life Southern millworker who revolutionizes a small town and discovers a power within herself that she never knew she had. Under the guidance of a New York unionizer (Ron Leibman) and with increasing courage and determination, Norma Rae organizes her fellow factory workers to fight for better conditions and wages. Beau Bridges co-stars.

The Organizer

Drama 1963 NR In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Turin, an accident in a textile factory incites workers to stage a walkout. But it’s not until they receive unexpected aid from a traveling professor that they find a voice, unite and stand up for themselves. Starring Marcello Mastroianni.

I’m All Right Jack

Satire 1959 NR. Recent Oxford graduate and old-money aristocrat Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) takes a menial job in his uncle’s weapons factory but keeps his background a secret in this sly British satire directed by John Boulting. Stanley’s incompetence provokes suspicion and sympathy as he becomes a pawn in a battle between management and a bullying shop steward (Peter Sellers). When Stanley unwittingly causes a massive strike, will he be a goat or a hero?

On the Waterfront

Drama 1954 NR 108 minutes. Winner of eight Oscars, director Elia Kazan’s classic morality tale stars Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy, a has-been boxer who experiences a crisis of conscience while working for mobbed-up union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry turns a blind eye when Friendly’s thugs kill a fellow dockworker to keep him from testifying in a corruption case, but he has second thoughts when the victim’s sister (Eva Marie Saint) urges him to take a stand.

How Green Was My Valley

Drama 1941 NR 118 minutes. Recounted via the memories of the Morgan family’s youngest son (Roddy McDowall), director John Ford’s gentle masterpiece (which won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director) chronicles 50 years in the lives of a close-knit clan of Welsh coal miners. As the years pass, the Morgans try to survive unionization, a lengthy strike and a mining accident; meanwhile, their hometown and its venerable traditions slowly disintegrate.

The Wobblies

Documentary 1979 NR 90 minutes. This fascinating documentary explores the group that won an eight-hour workday and fair wages in the early 20th century. Founded in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, changed the course of history as they attempted to organize unskilled workers into one overarching union. Replete with striking archival footage, the film pays tribute to American workers who put their lives on the line to battle rampant corporate greed.

The Champagne Safari

Documentary 1995 NR 1hr 34m. In 1934, plucky industrialist Charles Bedaux bankrolled an outrageously extravagant expedition across northern Canada, from his fortune made as an efficiency consultant to the major corporations to speed up and increase worker productivity – until the workers rebelled. Footage from the failed journey offers a glimpse of the enigmatic adventurer, who was later revealed to be a Nazi collaborator.


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