Daily Stream: Labor Day watch list

Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

Sep 07, 2020

An archival image of striking women laundry workers from the documentary Union Maids

For your Labor Day viewing, stream a film that considers how far the American labor movement has come over the past century—or how far it still has to go. Here are five to consider; each title links to a free or low-cost way to view.


1. Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos (2020)
Recently, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reached the unprecedented milestone of $200 billion in personal wealth. While this PBS Frontline special from February offers a broad view of his history and business practices, it devotes time to the online marketplace's pattern of troubling workplace practices, providing a platform for the experiences of past and former Amazon workers.

A police officer faces off against a striking coal miner in a scene from Harlan County USA

From Harlan County, USA, image courtesy of Janus Films

2. Harlan County, USA (1976)
(Requires signup for free trial of The Criterion Channel)

Documentary legend Barbara Kopple won an Oscar for her feature about the long and sometimes violent Brookside Strike in rural Kentucky, for which she spent years embedded with the 180 coal miners seeking better, safer working conditions.

3. Salt of the Earth (1954)

Three casualties of the Hollywood blacklist—director Herbert J. Biberman, writer Michael Wilson, and producer Paul Jarrico—collaborated on this independent production to dramatize the practice of racial discrimination in a New Mexico zinc mine, the efforts of Mexican and Mexican-American workers to unionize for fair treatment, and the union busting moves on the part of the mine company. Actual mine workers participated in the film, which was boycotted on its initial release for its alleged Communist sympathies.

4. Support the Girls (2018)

The great Regina Hall leads Andrew Bujalski's look at one day in a Hooters-like establishment and the Herculean efforts of Hall's manager to provide a positive environment for her service staff in a workplace in which their objectification is written into the business plan.

5. Union Maids (1976)

Ohio treasure Julia Reichert's first Academy Award nomination came out of this absorbing, inspiring portrait of three women who were instrumental in efforts to organize workers in Chicago in the 1930s, and to fight back the brutality of opposition from business interests. 


Image at top of page from Union Maids, courtesy of the filmmaker

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