Top 10 Union Movies

Top 10 Union Movies

Native Land, 1942
While Hollywood offered a nuanced view of unions that was meant to be both persuasive and sedative, a group of left-wing filmmakers based in New York were making documentaries of the loftier, more agitated stripe. Directed by Leo Hurwitz and renowned photographer Paul Strand, and available in the Criterion Collection's box set of Paul Robeson films, Native Land dramatizes then recent events in the righteous organizing of labor and the violent reaction of thugs in the employ of management and law enforcement. A union organizer and a politically brave farmer are found dead, their message to be spread by others. And the mission is picked up by Tennessee grocers and Arkansas sharecroppers.

Native Land's soaring narration, written by David Wolff and delivered by Robeson, sees honest labor as the fulfillment of the Bill of Rights: "We built liberty into the beams of our houses — the house of America ... We set the foundations of our cities on the rock of the Bill of Rights." The film ends with an eloquent declaration — for "the rights of all Americans, every creed and every color, to a job, a home, adequate food and medical care, the right to bargain collectively, to act for the greatest good of the greatest number, the right to live in peace, unthreatened and threatening no one" — that could be the platform for a vital progressive movement today, a Tea Party of the left.

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