Posted by Jay Livingston
A guy I know who hates teachers unions equates them with the corrupt and violent Longshoremen’s union portrayed in “On the Waterfront.” True, the union comes off badly in this movie. When Brando, having testified against union boss Johnny Friendly says, “I’m glad what I done to you, Johnny Friendly,” the audience is glad too. But what about other films?
Hollywood is much more likely to give us business executives than workers. The corporate biggies are usually corrupt and evil, but at least they’re up there on the screen. Workers, not so much.
I tried to think of American movies (non-documentary) where a union or even the idea of a union had an important role. The list I came up with on the spur of the moment was very short
- Norma Rae (1979)
- The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
- Matewan (1987)
- Hoffa (1992)
- Salt of the Earth (1954)
- The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
- F.I.S.T. (1978)
- Bread and Roses (2000)
- Blue Collar (1978)
- Won’t Back Down (2012)
- The Garment Jungle (1957)
- Black Fury (1935)
My favorite nomination – one ignored even by Google – came from my cousin, who wasn’t even born till about twenty years after the movie came out: “The Pajama Game” (1957).
* The point of “Waterfront” was to make a virtue out of testifying to the government against the team you used to be on. Both the writer and the director, Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, respectively, had testified before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities and had ratted out other Hollywood people – naming names and ruining careers. Kazan acknowledged the parallel – he was glad what he done to his former associates. But Schulberg denied that the movie had anything to do with HUAC investigations.