Posted by: kfugrip | April 17, 2007

Labor

Let it be known that I am pro Union and pro labor movement. My Dad has been in the union his entire working life (almost), and was president of his local a couple of years ago. It is for these reasons, as well as my enjoyment of the director Barbara Kopple’s work, that led me to American Dream, the 55th movie I’ve seen in 2007 (not couting the handful that I watched with commentary… which I will count as only 1 movie, personified by Brown Bunny).

Like Kopple’s other major documentary, Harlan County, USA, American Dream centers on a local union’s battle for worker’s benefits and how that escalates into a long strike. In American Dream the workers are against a contract that lowers wages from $10.69 to $8.25 an hour. All this happens during the notoriously anti-union administration of Regan. This story does not have a happy ending. The strike is basically broken and the 1000 workers who refused to cross the picket line do not get their jobs back. The International Union didn’t support the strike and aided in the collapse of the local’s strike. Brutal stuff really. All they want was their wages to remain the same when the company, Hormel, netted 29.5 million in profits the previous year.

Most days I don’t understand how anyone who wasn’t a coporate executive would not support a union. They are looking out for their workers. The labor movement created the middle class. Companies, like Hormel, mining companies, electric companies, etc…, wouldn’t provide their workers with a living wage, much less retirement, insurance, or a 40 hour work week, without the pressure from the labor movement. This film, however, reveals a bit of the innfighting and politicing that occurs in any large organization, including unions. It’s depressing.

When the transit workers here in New York City went on strike the two years ago, I supported them. They didn’t want their health benefit’s cut, or turned into a copay situation, at the same time that there was a rate hike for the subways and the MTA “hid” a surplus. That surplus prompted the Mayor to sue to return the rates to their previous number. It didn’t happen. Anyways, the official line was that the strike was “illegal”. Which is a stupid statement. The only recourse for a union, for workers, in situations where they are unhappy about the conditions of their job, and the company refuses the budge, is to strike. If the majority of workers ratify the order to strike, then it happens. The question of legality is arbitrary. The workers were getting screwed by a large company, I supported them as I would any workers in the same situation even if it inconvenienced me.

I’m rating this movie 4 stars. I don’t know why it’s not 5. Compared with Harlan County, USA there was less of an emotional core… so I guess that’s the answer. I suspect that the fact that the striker’s lose is affecting my decision a little.

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