Ep. 165 - Labor Union Depictions in Hollywood (Part II): The Rare Pro-Worker Narrative

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A white collar worker wrestles with whether to accept a promotion or help his co-workers organize. Salt miners stand up to the company that’s taken over their town. A factory worker exposes her employer’s union-busting tactics.

Stories like these represent something we don’t often see in Hollywood: Unions and labor organizers as the good guys. Not as egomaniacs or zealots, thugs or grifters—but as heroes willing to risk their health, homes, and livelihoods for the greater good.

This is in contrast to the anti-union depictions in pop culture we explored in Episode 164, part one of a two-part series on depictions of labor in film and television. We discussed Hollywood’s emphasis on corruption in labor organizing, focusing on depictions of bloated bureaucracy, organized crime, and autocratic union bosses in On the Waterfront (1954), Blue Collar (1978), and The Irishman (2019), among others.

On this episode we address the inverse of that, looking at the rare but nontrivial examples that pop film has celebrated the accomplishments of labor movements, centered beleaguered workers with everything to lose, positioned abusive employers as the villains, and embraced themes of worker courage and heroism. While very often not perfect, these examples show that compelling, award-winning narratives can be crafted out of tales of collective action and collective bargaining.

Our guest is Angela Allan.

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