8 Workers’ Rights Movies You Must See for Labor Day

The first Monday in September marks Labor Day, the annual holiday that gives us a shorter work week and a longer weekend. And while some consider it a measure of when the end of summer is approaching or is Reminder not to wear white the next daythe holiday recognizes the many social and economic contributions of working people – past and present.

Labor Day officially became a federal holiday on June 28, 1894. But before that, the holiday was recognized by labor activists and individual states. In the late 19th century, as unionism and the American labor movement grew in importance, groups of unionists across the country chose different days to commemorate labor. Oregon was the first state to pass legislation recognizing Labor Day on February 21, 1887. That same year, four other states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — passed similar legislation. Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania followed suit a few years later, and by 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday before Congress recognized it.

Today, Labor Day is publicly celebrated with picnics, parades and festivals. But if you want to make your celebrations more private and, dare we say, cozyLook no further than your own living room. The best way to enjoy your day off and party in the comfort of your own home is by watching films that highlight workers’ rights and tough unions.

From Norma Rae to Sorry to Bother You, here are eight must-see films this holiday.

Herbert J. Bibermans theatre follows a couple – Esperanza Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas) and her emotionally abusive miner husband, Ramón Quintero (Juan Chacón) – whose plans for a prosperous future are threatened after a workers’ strike led by a majority of Mexican-American miners sparked violence Chaos. As the situation grows tense in the miners’ struggle for better working conditions, Esperanza and Ramón are at odds over whether it’s best to keep fighting or to give up hope for good.

Based on the 1954 stage musical of the same name, The Pajama Game revolves around the Sleep-tite Pajama Factory, where a union of overworked factory workers is seeking a seven-and-a-half-cent-an-hour raise, to the dismay of the company president. Adding to the mess are a string of corrupt corporations that are ultimately (and heroically) exposed by newly hired factory manager Sid Sorokin. Directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, it stars Doris Day, John Raitt, Carol Haney and Eddie Foy Jr.

Inspired by the true story of the secret organization of Irish-American militant coal miners founded in 19th-century Pennsylvania, The Molly Maguires chronicles their struggle against the cruelty of oppressive mine owners. Their struggle is far from civilized, as the miners resort to sabotage, violence, and even murder to fight their oppression. Directed by Martin Ritt, it stars Sean Connery as “Black Jack” Kehoe, the leader of the Mollies, and Richard Harris as Detective James McParlan, who helped break up the organization.

In her Oscar-winning performance, Sally Field plays Norma Rae, a single mother and cotton mill worker whose poor working conditions are detrimental to her family’s health. After the unfortunate deaths of her father and co-worker, Norma Rae joins a union against the factory’s lax management, which seeks to undermine their efforts by forcing workers to do more work for less pay and anti-racialism among whites and black workers. Alongside Field, Beau Bridges, Ron Leibman, Pat Hingle and Barbara Baxley star in the drama.

Bill Duke’s feature film tells the true story of two poor black tenant farmers who work in Chicago’s meat processing industry and face racism, labor disputes and layoffs. The film’s protagonist, Frank Custer (Damien Leake), eventually joins the Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen of North America Union, which consequently fuels more excitement than benefit. In addition to labor disputes, Custer struggles with strained relationships with his non-union black colleagues and other immigrants. Alfre Woodard, Clarence Felder, Moses Gunn and Dennis Farina also star in the film.

In this Academy Award-nominated performance, Charlize Theron plays Josey Aimes, a troubled mother of two who quits her hair washing job to work at the local iron mine. There, Josey quickly realizes that she and the other female employees are constant victims of sexual harassment and humiliation at the hands of most of their male colleagues. Josey tries to get the women involved in a class action lawsuit against their jobs, but the fight for safer working conditions proves more difficult than expected. Inspired by the fall of 1997 Jenson vs. Eveleth Taconite CompanyThe film also stars Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Renner, Michelle Monaghan and Woody Harrelson.

Produced and directed by Diego Luna, the film follows the efforts of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. In the 1960s, Chavez, along with his wife Dolores, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to form the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. The film sheds light on several of UFW’s major nonviolent campaigns, including the Delano Grape Strike, the Salad Bowl Strike and the 1975 Modesto March. Michael Peña plays Cesar Chavez and Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta.

In Boots Riley’s directorial debut, LaKeith Stanfield plays Cassius “Cash” Green, a young black telemarketer who takes on a “white voice” in order to advance at RegalView, his exploitative workplace. After taking part in a protest as part of his colleague’s union initiative, Cash is surprisingly promoted to elite power caller. However, things quickly get tricky when Cash learns that the Power Callers are selling on behalf of WorryFree, a shady company that outsources slave labor. Soon, Cash embarks on an absurd journey—a journey involving a half-horse, half-human hybrid—as he decides whether or not his new venture is really worth it. Starring alongside Stanfield are Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Danny Glover and Steven Yeun.

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Tom Vazquez

Tom Vazquez is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Tom Vazquez joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with Tom Vazquez by emailing tomvazquez@ustimetoday.com.

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