For International Workers’ Day on May 1st, we celebrate films that do something rare in cinema: put the worker at the center of the story. When it comes to blockbuster movies, most focus on the lives of upper-middle and upper-class people. The stories of farmworkers, servants, workers in factories and mines as well as cleaners and other members of the working class are almost never told. Films like this break the usual by bringing up issues of class struggle and injustice through brilliant storytelling and plotting.
The epidemic has exacerbated many of the problems faced by workers in the global capitalist economy. As a result of unsafe working conditions, workers in the meatpacking business have accused companies like Tyson Factory of generating enormous epidemics of coronavirus throughout several plants. During the pandemic, Amazon sales soared, fueling rumors about Jeff Bezos’ soaring fortune. At the same time, Amazon employees around the world continued to voice their dissatisfaction with their working conditions, resulting to the formation of the first worldwide coalition of Amazon workers who went on strike in concert.
Despite the fact that many of these films are set in the past, the lessons they teach can readily be applied to today’s labor conflicts. Films can be used for more than just amusement; they can also be used to educate and mobilize people. These narrative films* are based on real events and society, and they document the rise and fall of the middle class around the world. Gender, racism and immigration issues are as entwined as they are in real life, despite the witty criticism some make on the current capitalist system.
1. The Killing Floor (1984)
Frank Custer (Damien Leake), a Black Southerner who travels to Chicago during World War I, is the focus of The Killing Floor, a film directed by Bill Duke. A meatpacking plant hires him, and he soon finds himself caught up in the conflict between racist white workers who want to organize and Black workers who refuse to join them. Worker oppression is examined in this film in the context of racial tension. Buy the Blu-Ray version of The Killing Floor now.
2. Norma Rae (1979)
Based on the true story of union activist Crystal Lee Suton, who was fired from her job at J.P. Stevens after copying an anti-union letter from the workplace bulletin board, this American classic stars Sally Field as Norma Rae Webster. Norma Rae gets involved in union activities after poor working conditions start harming the health of the factory workers, leading to a scene where the plant comes to a halt as workers put down their tools. Pay for Norma Rae in HD.
3. Bread and Roses (2000)
A janitorial worker’s campaign for unionization is the subject of Ken Loach’s film. The story of two Mexican sisters who work as janitors in downtown Los Angeles is told in the film Bread and Roses. There is a strong anti-union stance at their company, and the boss has a short fuse and arbitrarily fires people. Managers are forced to use divide and conquer tactics after Maya, one of the sisters, joins the rising “Justice for Janitors” movement. Bread and Roses is available to watch and/or rent on Vimeo.
4. Parasite (2019)
Parasite, a South Korean film by Bong Joon Ho, tells the story of an impoverished family that cheats a wealthy family into hiring the entire family for domestic work. Class conflict is depicted in this film, as workers’ survival is tied to the ignorance and riches of their bosses. Comedic terror is used to make a point about the brutality of poverty and capitalism’s predatory character. Hulu has the movie Parasite.
5. Atlantics (2019)
Mati Diop’s captivating film, set in Dakar, Senegal, explores themes of the paranormal, class, love, and migration. Ada, a young woman in love with Suleiman, one of the workers on a futuristic tower being built on the Atlantic coast, is the focus of the story. Workers who have been without pay for months embark on a voyage across the seas in quest of new employment prospects. Their ghosts return to haunt the tycoon who threw them into the sea, as the story progresses, revealing that they did not survive. On Netflix, you can watch Atlantics.
6. Sorry to Bother You (2018)
For Boots Riley’s directorial debut, he has chosen to explore the status of business and capitalism in general. In this telemarketing comedy starring LaKeith Stanfield, a young Black man learns to speak with a white accent in order to improve his career prospects. This employee finds himself singled out for advancement and is torn between financial rewards and the need to suppress the unionization attempts of the lower-level personnel (his former peers). Hulu has the video Sorry to Bother You.
7. The Land (1970)
The Land or Al Ard, directed by Youssef Chahine (based on a classic novel by Abdel Rahman al-Sharqawi), tells the story of poor cotton farmers living in the Nile Delta in the early 1930s, whose lives are plagued by tragedy. When a corrupt landlord takes advantage of farmers, land ownership becomes a major point of contention. They discover the power of collective organization in their struggle for self-determination. Netflix has the show The Land.
8. Tigertail (2020)
An accident at the factory where Alan Yang’s mother works forces him to leave Taiwan and marry a rich man’s daughter, forcing him to leave behind the love of his life. This is Alan Yang’s debut feature film. However, life as an immigrant in the United States is far from ideal for him. He works as a shopkeeper. Poverty, dashed hopes, and unresolved grief have an impact on subsequent generations, as the film depicts. On Netflix, you can watch Tigertail.
9. The Organizer (1963)
Mario Monicelli’s Italian film I compagni portrays the story of a teacher who becomes an activist for the textile plant workers in Turin who are being exploited. During a long shift in the late 1900s, an employee is hurt by a machine when he becomes asleep due to fatigue. To avoid burnout, workers band together and make a case for working one hour less per day. They stage a walk-out when their complaints go unanswered. Conflict between the company’s management and employees continues to simmer, setting the stage for a sequence of dramatic occurrences. Blu-ray copies of The Organizer are available now.
10. Roma (2018)
An indigenous live-in housekeeper’s life is shown in this Oscar winning Mexican film by Alfonso Cuarón Yalitza Aparicio plays Cleo, a maid for a well-to-do family who takes care of the children and cleans the house. Cleo’s boyfriend abandons her after she gets pregnant. Her boss takes her shopping for the baby one day and they find themselves caught in the middle of student protests involving her ex-boyfriend and a paramilitary gang, which she had no idea about before then. Reflections about traumas, race, and class in Mexico City are woven into the film’s narrative. Netflix has the movie Roma available for viewing.
11. The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Ernesto (Che) Guevara and Alberto Granada’s motorbike journey through South America is the subject of this movie. It’s based on memoirs of Guevara and Granada, and it tells the story of their voyage, which they made in the midst of harsh weather and difficult terrain. Guevara’s transformation into a socialist revolutionary is sparked by his encounters with poor and indigenous people while on a tour that was meant to expose him to the realities of life in the latter years of his youth. Peacock offers a free screening of The Motorcycle Diaries.
12. Matewan (1987)
“Matewan,” directed by John Sayles, is based on the real-life experiences of coal miners in Mingo County, Kentucky. Evangelism in this Baptist community takes a new turn as a labor union organizer arrives, setting the stage for the epic Battle of Matewan in 1920, which saw miners square up against the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency, the mining owners’ go-to men for brutal labor repression. The Blu-Ray version of Matewan is a good investment.
13. Made in Dagenham (201)
This British film on the 1968 strike by Ford Dagenham Plant sewing machinists stars Sally Hawkins and has received wide acclaim. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 was a result of the women’s strike for sex equality and equal pay. Gender roles were depicted in this film, and the firm misjudged the ability of their female employees to organize. On Vudu, you can watch Made in Dagenham.
14. Snowpiercer (2013)
It is Bong Joon Ho’s vision of the world in 2031, when a devastating climate change experiment goes awry, that is a dystopian masterwork of class division and revolt, Snowpiercer, a spinning train, is the only way for mankind to survive in the new “ice age”—segregated by class, with the lowest class confined to filth in the tail of the train. The video chronicles their plan to create a revolution and take on the security apparatus that protects the elites in the country. Netflix has Snowpiercer, so check it out.