Labor Movies Library

This Labor Movies Library is maintained by Portland Rising, a committee of Portland Jobs with Justice.


Films available for free on Youtube

1877: The Grand Army of Starvation (1987)
A nationwide rebellion brought the United States to a standstill in the summer of 1877. Eighty thousand railroad workers walked out, joined by hundreds of thousands of Americans outraged by the excesses of the railroad companies and the misery of a four-year economic depression. Police, state militia, and federal troops clashed with strikers and sympathizers, leaving more than one hundred dead and thousands injured. The Great Uprising inaugurated a new era of conflict over the meaning of America in the industrial age. Dramatically narrated by James Earl Jones, the documentary uses period lithographs, and actor-voiced first-person accounts from both worker and middle-class perspectives. (30 minutes)

10,000 Black Men Named George (2002)
10000 BMNG

10,000 Black Men Named George is a film that is based on the true story of union activist and organizer Asa Philip Randolph’s efforts to organize the black porters of the Pullman Rail Company in 1920s. The union they formed was known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The title of the film refers to the custom of the time when Pullman porters, all of whom were black, were addressed as “George.” (95 minutes)



At the River I Stand (1993)
At the river I stand
This documentary reconstructs the two eventful months in 1968 that led to the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It shows how Memphis’s black community rallied behind the 65-day strike of 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers for a living wage, summed up by the slogan “I Am a Man.” King joined their struggle to his growing nation-wide Poor People’s Campaign. The film captures many of the most important tensions in US history: black vs. white, non-violence vs. violence, privilege vs. poverty, and grassroots mobilization vs. national politics. (59 minutes)


The Cradle Will Rock (1999)

cradle will rock

This historical drama fictionalizes the events that surrounded the 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein—a leftist labor musical first sponsored by the WPA Federal Theatre Project and later banned after the WPA cut the project. The film adapts history to create an account of the original production, bringing in other stories of the time to produce a social commentary on the role of art and power in the 1930s, particularly amidst the struggles of the labor movement at the time and the corresponding appeal of socialism among many intellectuals, artists, and workers. (129 minutes)

Golden Lands, Working Hands (1999)—Disc 1
Golden Lands, Working Hands (1999)—Disc 2

This ten-part documentary introduces students, union members and the general public to California labor history. Close attention is paid to the ongoing recomposition of the California working class through immigration, beginning with the Gold Rush and continuing to the end of the 20th century. Central themes include divisions in the working class and how they were or were not overcome, the choices made by working people in the creation of their own organizations, and the consequences of these choices for improvement of working people’s lives. The film is meant to be shown one part at a time in conjunction with reading materials and lesson plans suitable for high school students, and for union members in new member programs. Narrated by Joe Morton, with re-enactments, historical photos and video, and other media. (Individual parts range from 6-24 minutes; the complete documentary runs 3 hours).

Harlan County, USA (1976)

Harlan County, USA is a documentary covering the “Brookside Strike,” an effort of 180 coal miners and their wives against the Duke Power Company-owned Eastover Coal Company’s Brookside Mine and Prep Plant in Harlan County, southeast Kentucky in 1973. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1976. (103 minutes)




Harvest of Loneliness (2010)

Built of testimonies, historical background and evocative visual images from photos and film footage, this is the story of millions of Mexican men and women who experienced the contract labor program known as the Bracero Program over its twenty-two years. The film documents desperate Mexican workers hoping to make enough money doing farm work in California and the Southwest to send back to impoverished families in Mexico. Those hopes were cruelly crushed when workers faced conditions, as many in the movie testified, akin to slavery.  The film also shows how contract labor programs make union organizing virtually impossible and warns us what to expect from any new attempt at more recent guest worker programs that have been promoted by both Republicans and Democrats. (56 minutes)

The Inheritance (1964)

This documentary film sponsored by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America largely chronicles the history of the garment workers from 1900 to 1964. It documents the flood of immigrants that poured through Ellis Island in the early 1900’s and the reality of their work in Lower East Side sweatshops as well as coal mines and textile mills filled with children, the struggle for survival during the depression years and labor’s brutal battle to organize (including actual footage of the Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel), and ends with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. This film honors the boldness, courage and toughness of working people to stand up and be counted and counted on.  The film includes wonderfully inspiring music. (58 minutes)

The Killing Floor (1984)

This docudrama by Bill Duke was based on the true story of Frank Custer, a sharecropper who was part of the great African American migration from the South to Chicago at the time of World War I. Frank, like many other southern migrants got a job in Chicago’s slaughterhouses. There he faced brutal exploitation by the meat packers. What is compelling in this movie is the exploration of a burgeoning industrial union movement, its intersections with the further exploitation faced by black workers in the slaughterhouses and communities, and the role of the “packers” in dividing workers by race.  Bill Duke’s hard-hitting docudrama, produced for PBS’s American Playhouse, mixes documentary footage with a dramatization of the events leading up to the Chicago riots, to powerful effect. (118 minutes)

Modern Times (1936)
charlie chaplin

Modern Times is a silent comedy written and directed by Charlie Chaplin in which his Little Tramp character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and financial conditions many people faced during the Great Depression. It was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. (87 minutes)



Native Land (1942)
native land

A combination of a documentary format and staged reenactments, the film depicts the struggle of trade unions against union-busting corporations, their spies and contractors. It was based on the 1938 report of the La Follette Committee’s investigation of the repression of labor organizing.  Paul Robeson participated as an off-screen narrator and vocalist. (80 minutes)




The Organizer (1963)
the organizer

The Organizer is an Italian-French-Yugoslavian-produced film that is set in Turin, Italy at the end of the 19th century. Marcello Mastroianni stars as a labor activist who becomes involved with a group of textile factory workers who go on strike. (135 minutes)



Salt of the Earth (1954)

Salt of the Earth was written by Michael Wilson, directed by Herbert J. Biberman, and produced by Paul Jarrico. All three had been blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment due to their alleged involvement in communist politics. The film’s plot centers on a long and difficult 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, New Mexico. In the film, the company is identified as “Delaware Zinc,” and the setting is “Zinctown, New Mexico.” The film shows how the miners and their wives, the company, and the police react during the strike. The producers and director did not hire Hollywood actors and actresses for the film, instead they used actual miners and their families who were involved in the historic strike. (94 minutes)

Union Maids (1976)
Union Maids

Union Maids was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film is based on the three women from Chicago in the labor history book Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd. The women discuss and reminisce about their experience as union organizers in the early Depression years and the current state of the labor movement 40 years later in the 1970s. Accompanied by a lot of vintage folk music. (50 minutes)

With Babies and Banners (1979)

This documentary film about the 1936-1937 General Motors sit-down strike uses archival footage and interviews to highlight the role of women in the strike.  It also includes contemporary interviews with many of the key women. The energy and vision of the women is powerful and inspiring. The women had no doubts about who they were and why and how they could make a difference. (45 minutes)

The Wobblies (1979)
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“Solidarity! All for One and One for All!” With that slogan, the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, took to organizing unskilled workers into one big union and changing the course of history. Along the way to winning an eight-hour workday and fair wages in the early 20th century, the Wobblies were one of the few unions to be racially and sexually integrated and often met with imprisonment, violence, and the privations of prolonged strikes. This award-winning film airs a provocative look at the forgotten American history of this most radical of unions, screening the unforgettable and still-fiery voices of Wobbly members–lumberjacks, migratory workers, and silk weavers–in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Eerily echoing current times, The Wobblies boldly investigates a nation torn by naked corporate greed and the red-hot rift between the industrial masters and the rabble-rousing workers in the field and factory. Replete with gorgeous archival footage, the film pays tribute to American workers who took the ideals of equality and free speech seriously enough to die for them. (90 minutes)


Films available for free on Kanopy with a library card

Collision Course (1988)
eastern airlines

Collision Course traces the dramatic rise and fall of workplace cooperation at Eastern Airlines.  The film begins in 1983 with Eastern hurtling towards bankruptcy, beset by years of labor-management hostility, high wage cuts, and a poor service record. When Eastern once again demanded wage cuts, the machinist union responded with a bold counter-proposal to save the company by expanding worker power.  It called for giving workers both a 25 percent ownership stake and an unprecedented say in the company.  The results were stunning. Autonomous work teams took over the shop floor. Wage increases were tied to productivity improvements. Encouraged to use their brains, newly motivated “cost teams” invented ways to save the airline $100 million.  However, when competitive pressures re-emerged, Eastern ended the agreement.  In 1986, the airline was sold to Frank Lorenzo’s notoriously anti-union Texas Air and not long after went bankrupt. Eastern’s rise and fall provides an important case study of the possibilities and limitations of workplace cooperation. (47 minutes)

Invisible Hands (2018)
invisible hands

If you thought that child labor happens primarily at early stages of industrialization, or want to better understand today’s globalized supply chain, Invisible Hands is a must-see. This award-winning documentary reveals the widespread reliance on child labor, and the trafficking of children for child labor, in the manufacture of many well-known consumer brands. Filmed in six countries, this investigative documentary incorporates interviews with child laborers, their captors, “employers,” corporate officers whose firms contract for and sell goods produced with child labor, and child-saving activists. Undercover footage exposes the horrific underbelly of abuse, stunted growth, and child-selling. This difficult tour of today’s global supply chain raises the question: Why do international brands accept and rely on exploited child labor? How do they get away with it? A companion website offers additional information and actions. (74 minutes)

Made in L.A.  (2007)
made in la
This PBS-POV documentary explores the intersections of modern sweatshop labor, immigration, gender, and the beginnings of worker centers as a strategy of empowerment. The central event of the documentary is the three-year struggle by employees of the fast fashion brand Forever 21 to enforce minimum wage and maximum hour laws, end wage theft, and gain a safe workplace (2001-2004). This beautifully filmed documentary tells this story through the lives of three immigrant Latinas. Their struggles, fears, ambitions and personal transformations emerge through recorded oral interviews and conversations in their homes, at the workers center, at protests, and on speaking tours. Made in L.A. “offers viewers a powerful springboard for dialogue about the challenges facing low-wage immigrant workers, the great hardships and benefits of organizing, the impact of individual consumer purchasing choices, and the complex effects of public policy related to immigration and labor.” A multi-page discussion guide is available from the filmmakers.  (70 minutes)

Maquilapolis (2006)
This documentary about the maquiladora system of production brings to vivid life the stories of several women working in maquilas in Tijuana, Mexico. The movie follows their development into promotoras, or grassroots activists who fight against corporate globalization. The women show us the effects of the super exploitation of this system. Not only are their workplaces full of toxics (causing, e.g., kidney damage and lead poisoning) but their neighborhoods, often with no sewage lines, are toxic waste dumps for corporations like Sanyo and Sony.  What makes this film so intimate is that the filmmakers worked collaboratively with the factory workers themselves, even providing cameras and teaching the promotoras to film. These grassroots activists tell us the hopeful story of how they fought back against corporate abuses and for their dignity. (70 minutes)

The Willmar 8 (1981)
willmar 8
The Willmar 8 is Academy Award winner Lee Grant’s documentary about working women.  The film tells the story of eight unassuming, apolitical women in America’s heartland–Willmar, Minnesota–who were driven by sex discrimination at work to take the most unexpected step of their lives and found themselves in the forefront of the struggle for women’s rights. In December 1977, risking jobs, friends, family and the opposition of church and community, they began the longest bank strike in American history in a dramatic attempt to assert their own equality and self-worth.  The inner moral conviction of these 8 women to stand up against gender discrimination and their tenacity in continuing their strike for almost two years is remarkable and inspiring.  (50 minutes)

The Young Karl Marx (2017)

This is a very entertaining movie about the relationship of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles as they develop communist theory in the context of labor and political ferment leading up to the revolutions of 1848. The director, Raoul Peck, who also made the James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, is very skilled at creating excitement from passionate political dialogue and organizational debates. We meet other political figures of the day, including Pierre Proudhon and learn from the political arguments between Marx and Proudhon. The movie includes the very moving story of the writing of the Communist Manifesto.  Although Marx and Engles’ wives are portrayed as very intelligent and deeply committed to revolutionary theory and action, unfortunately the movie treats their lives in a much more superficial manner than it does the lives of Marx and Engles. (118 minutes)


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