Workers in struggle on and off screen

While people’s struggles were portrayed on many screens at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, a real-life struggle was going on outside the Hyatt Hotel housing the festival press offices. Hotel workers from Unite Here Local 75 were striking against the successful chain of hotels that refused to negotiate better working conditions. In addition, janitors picketed the new TIFF Bell LightBox building that was built to house the festival offices and several  theaters. A representative was invited on stage at the Michael Moore/Ken Loach Dialog to present his case urging the festival to hire union workers.

Meanwhile on the screen, audiences were treated to one of the most exciting pro-labor films made in decades. The highly entertaining “Made in Dagenham” retells the story of the 187 courageous women at British Ford plant who struck for equal pay back in 1968. Despite antagonism from the plant owners, U.S. Ford management, and even the leadership of the union, the feisty women machinists stuck to their demands with the help of the shop steward (Bill Hoskins), their neighbors, the female Minister of Labor and eventually most of the 55,000 fellow male workers, and won a historic victory that led two years later to equal pay for equal work in all industries in England. And the momentum spread around the world. Sally Hawkins reminds viewers of Sally Fields in “Norma Rae” and the film is as powerful as that pro-union classic. Gripping, funny, and historically accurate (with the real women interviewed during the closing credits), the film captures the power of workers united in struggle for a just cause. This a MUST SEE film for those who have toiled in factories and on the picket lines. It’s a tribute to working people everywhere.

Other films that told the story of communities rising up against powerful corporations were reviewed in previous People’s World columns. “Windfall” shows locals taking on the wind turbine industry in a small northern New York village, and “The Pipe” tells the story of farmers and fishermen in a remote village on the coast of western Ireland resisting the encroaching Shell Oil Company and its massive pipe laying rigs bringing danger and pollution to their peaceful communities.

A French romantic comedy, “Potiche,” is also the vehicle for some radical politics. The still radiant Catherine Deneuve plays the wife of an umbrella factory owner who ruthlessly controls his workers like cattle. Veteran French actor Gerard Depardieu plays an aging Marxist mayor and former lover of Deneuve. When the workers go on strike, Deneuve’s husband has a heart attack and leaves the factory leaderless. The mayor suggests she take over the reins, and her new style of leadership, female and pro-worker, creates a well-lubricated and successful business that thrives on union/management respect. Of course, there’s some romance thrown in there to attract the general audience.

Websites:  (Unite Here Local 75)  (Toronto International Film Festival)  (“Made in Dagenham”)  (“Potiche”)

Photo: A scene from “Made in Dagenham.” (



Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.