Labor Movies Library

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



Films available for free (most on Youtube)

10,000 Black Men Named George (2002)

10000 men

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 Rain Company in the 1920s. The union they formed was known as the Brotherhood of the 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)

The 1934 Waterfront Strike: Solidarity on the Docks (2022)

1934 strike

On May 9, 1934 more than 12,000 members of the International Longshoremen’s Association walked off the job from Bellingham to San Diego. They demanded better working conditions, union recognition and a coastwide contract.  The strike would cripple shipping and paralyze commerce for nearly three months. Despite violent clashes up and down the coast, solidarity bound the longshoremen together. (60 minutes)

1877: The Grand Army of Starvation

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)

At the River I Stand (1993)

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)

China Blue (2005)

china blueThey live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day. Most of the jeans they make in the factory are purchased by retailers in the U.S. and other countries. CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level.  Made without permission from the Chinese authorities, the film offers an alarming picture of the economic pressures applied by Western companies and the resulting human consequences, as the real profits are made—and kept—in first-world countries. The unexpected ending makes the connection between the exploited workers and U.S. consumers even clearer. (56 minutes)

Cooked: Survival by Zip Code (2018)

In COOKED: Survival By Zip Code, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand uses her signature serious-yet-quirky connect-the-dots style to take audiences from the deadly 1995 Chicago heat wave — in which 739 mostly black, elderly, and poor Chicagoans died during the course of one week– deep into one of our nation’s biggest growth industries: disaster preparedness. Along the way, Helfand forges inextricable links between extreme weather, extreme disparity, and extreme racism, daring to ask: what if a zip code was just a routing number and not a life-or-death sentence? (56 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 film, commissioned by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, chronicles the history of labor struggles, especially immigrant workers, to win decent working and living conditions and unions to protect their gains. It highlights the flood of immigrants that passed 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, the struggle for survival during the depression years and labor’s brutal battles to organize unions (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 and includes wonderfully inspiring music. (58 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)

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)


The River Ran Red (1993)

river ran red
The River Ran Red is a one-hour documentary which provides a gripping account of a community’s struggle to preserve its way of life. In the summer of 1892, a bitter conflict erupted at the Carnegie Works in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The nation’s largest steelmaker took on its most militant labor union, with devastating consequences for American workers. It was a defining movement that revealed the respective – and unequal – powers of corporate management and organized labor in the 1890s. The strike also revealed the weakness of the 19th century strategy of the unions of the American Federation of Labor – to only organize the skilled workers of northern and western European heritage. Innovations in technology changed management’s dependence on skilled labor, while massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe transformed the composition of the American working class. The Homestead strike of 1892 was not only a violent and dramatic battle, but it also marked the transformation of American labor relations. To evoke the strike and its century old legacy, the film employs documentary techniques, primary sources, dramatically staged scenes shot on location in the Pittsburgh area, and lyrical commentary found in poetry, song and fiction.

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)

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 Willmar 8 Revisited (2002). A Labor Education Service “Minnesota at Work” program. Twenty-five years after their groundbreaking strike at a Willmar bank, three of the women involved in the historic struggle recall the issues behind the walkout and talk about the effect it is still having today. (29 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)
Generated by IJG JPEG Library
“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, Labor Management Relations in America (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)

Downeast: Attempting to Create Factory Jobs in Rural Maine (2014)

Set during an era of U.S. post-industrialization, in which numerous factories have been exported, Downeast documents the attempt by Italian immigrant Antonio Bussone to reopen the former Stinson Seafood sardine cannery in Gouldsboro as a lobster processing plant, and save more than 100 local jobs. The New York Times wrote “All those daunting economic numbers that tabulate how many Americans are unemployed and how many factory jobs have been lost in the last 30 years can seem abstract until you run into a documentary like Downeast … It’s a tale of hope, frustration and disappointment that reminds us that behind all those big numbers are real human beings.” (82 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)

The Killing Floor (1984)

This Sundance prizewinning film explores in rigorously researched historical detail the struggle of Southern black migrants and European immigrants to build an interracial labor union in the Chicago Stockyards. The screenplay by Obie Award winner Leslie Lee is from an original story by producer Elsa Rassbach and is based on actual characters and events, tracing ethnic and class conflicts seething in the city’s giant slaughterhouses, when management efforts to divide the workforce fuel racial tensions that erupt in the deadly Chicago Race Riot of 1919. (118 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)

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)

Painted Nails (2016) 

Painted Nails

It won’t take long to fall in love with the subject of Painted Nails, Van Hoang, a Vietnamese nail salon owner who serves an ethnically diverse group of working class women with acrylic nails and intricate airbrush designs.  Through the course of the film, Van unintentionally becomes a contemporary Norma Rae or Erin Brockovich.  Painted Nails brings us unprecedented insight into the personal nature of the political movement to regulate one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. Major loopholes in the federal law dating back to 1938 allow the $50 billion cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, monitoring of health effects, or labeling requirements. (57 minutes)

Pencils Down! The 100 days of the Writer’s Guild Strike (2016)

In 2007, the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the labor union that represents writers in the American television and movie industry, hit an impasse in their contract negotiations with the Studios. At the center of the dispute was union jurisdiction over the Internet. Unable to make progress, the WGA called a strike, which brought Hollywood to a halt for 100 Days. This documentary blends strike footage, interviews with key industry figures, and historical Hollywood footage to explore questions about the industry business model for the internet and its implications for workers. (88 minutes)

Sorry We Missed You (2019)

The British working class is once again the empathetic subject of Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, a wrenching, intimate family drama that exposes the dark side of the so-called “gig economy.” Hoping that self-employment through gig economy can solve their financial woes, a hard-up UK delivery driver and his wife struggling to raise a family end up trapped in the vicious circle of this modern-day form of labor exploitation. (101 minutes)

The Young Karl Marx (2017)
This entertaining movie is about the relationship between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles and their development of communist theory in the context of the 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 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.  Unfortunately, although Marx and Engles’ wives are portrayed as intelligent and deeply committed to revolutionary theory, the movie treats their lives in a much more superficial manner than it does the lives of Marx and Engles. (118 minutes)

UberLand (2019)


Pulling back the curtain on the labor issues surrounding Uber and the gig economy, UberLand tells the story of a scandal-ridden company that upended transportation, defied regulators, decimated the taxi industry, and ended up cannibalizing its own drivers.  From the ashes of the Great Recession came the gig economy, which promised independence and flexibility for workers. Now, more than ten years later, the veneer of the gig economy has faded as the harsh reality of this particular Silicon Valley experiment has set in.  UberLand is the David and Goliath story of the drivers who took on Uber.  The film follows four different San Francisco based drivers – Eric, Robin, Antonio, and Xavier – as these independent contractors navigate the exploitative waters of the gig economy where many workers earn meager wages and have few labor protections. (53 minutes)


Films available at low cost on streaming services

Pride (2014)

Pride poster

Pride is a British historical comedy-drama film. Based on a true story, the film depicts a group of lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984, at the outset of what would become the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners campaign. (2 hours)


Sorry to Bother You (2018)

Sorry to bother you

Sorry to Bother You is an American surrealist black comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley. The film follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job. Swept into a corporate conspiracy, he must choose between profit and joining his activist friends to organize labor. (1 hour, 52 minutes)


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