by Sahid Fawaz
1. Norma Rae
Nominated for a number of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, this 1979 film focuses on the organizing efforts of a textile factory worker in a small town in North Carolina. A moving and heartfelt film, Norma Rae is one of the most definitive union films ever produced. Not to mention that Sally Field does an incredible job playing the lead role – enough so that she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her part.
This 1987 film provides a gritty look at the events of the Battle of Matewan, which was a coal miner strike in Matewan, WV in 1920. The movie provides a harsh glimpse into life in a company town and the conditions that led men and women to fight to the death for union representation. Nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography, Matewan is also recognized for its terrific camera-work in capturing the tough, dirty, and dangerous conditions that marked the lives of coal miners.
3. Roger and Me
A controversial and unflinching look at Flint, MI as it struggled with the outsourcing of good paying automotive jobs. This documentary by Michael Moore captivates from the beginning to the end and shows the effects of unrestrained corporate greed on American communities.
4. Harlan County, USA
This 1976 Oscar-winning documentary provides an unwavering glimpse into the Brookside Strike – a 1973 coal miner strike in the hills of Kentucky. Shot brilliantly and with no narration, the film is a tense journey into the tough fight by coal miners against powerful companies. This is a must-watch for anyone who enjoys documentaries.
One of Meryl Streep’s best performances, this Academy Award nominated movie depicts the tragic life of a plutonium plant worker and labor union activist who fought for safety improvements for workers. Gripping from beginning to end, and based on a true story, this movie is a must-see for those interested in labor history and great cinema.
Have a recommendation for a great labor movie? Let us know in the comments!