10 Best Labor Day Movies
Photo from the Kheel Center, Cornell University
You may be surprised to learn that Labor Day was not originally planned to be a weekend of barbecues and the last fun you can have before the school year starts. No, it was actually created by the US government in 1894 as a concession to the growing union movement. After several workers were killed by US Marshals during the Pullman Strike, a bill declaring a labor holiday was quickly passed through Congress and signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. So, when you've had your fill of beer and bratwursts, here are 10 films that can help you get into the original spirit of the holiday.
Norma Rae Sally Field won a Best Actress Oscar in 1979 for her portrayal of Norma Rae, a single mother who worked tirelessly to unionize the textile mill at which she worked. The image of Norma holding up a fist and saying "union" has since become an iconic scene in film, and Sally Field's "You like me!" Oscars speech has become iconic, too.
Gung Ho Michael Keaton starred in this dramedy that confronted one of the biggest fears of the 1980s: the economic power of the Japanese. When Japanese businessmen purchase a struggling American auto plant, worker liason Michael Keaton must mediate between labor and management and bring two cultures together. Keaton didn't win an Oscar for this, but he soon went on to become Beetlejuice and Batman, and that's a pretty good consolation prize.
Hoffa Jack Nicholson starred in this biopic about Jimmy Hoffa, one of the most famous and controversial union leaders in American history. Written by David Mamet and directed by Danny DeVito, this film goes into Hoffa's many struggles with the government, but oddly sidesteps the question of where his corpse is buried.
Nine to Five An employee-revenge film starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin as three assistants who get sick of the horrible treatment they receive from their boss, Dabney Coleman, and decide to take matters into their own hands. This film is ranked as one of the 100 best comedies of all time by the American Film Institute, and spawned a short-lived TV series.
F.I.S.T. Sylvester Stallone plays Johnny Kovak, a young worker that joins the Teamsters union in the 1930s. As he works his way up the ranks, his methods become more brutal, eventually bringing him in to conflict with a senator, played by Rod Steiger, who begins investigating the link between the Teamsters and organized crime. This was Stallone's follow-up to Rocky, and it's fun to watch a pre-action-star Stallone in a period drama.
Swimming with Sharks Kevin Spacey plays the boss from Hell, a well-known Hollywood producer who is known for making the career of any assistant who can survive his legendary abuses. Frank Whaley plays the assistant that couldn't take it anymore, and kidnaps his boss, starting a war of the wits that ends unexpectedly. This dark comedy is one of Spacey's best.
Matewan This is a fictionalized account of the Battle of Matewan, a 1920 strike at a coal mine in West Virgina. A young union organizer attempts to bring together striking workers, the scab workers brought in to replace them, and the detectives hired to break the strike with disastrous consequences.
Office Space A corporate comedy from the creator of Beavis & Butthead, this film has become a modern cult classic. Ron Livingston plays a frustrated office worker whose acts of defiance are seen as initiative by management and get him a promotion. When his two friends get laid off, the three hatch a scheme to get even, stolen from the plot of Superman 3.
Harlan County, USA This 1976 documentary shows the struggles of miners working in the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company. Management's refusal to sign a contract acknowledging the United Mine Workers of America kicked off a year-long struggle that often turned bloody.
Clerks Another modern cult classic, Kevin Smith's debut film shows us the lives of two minimum wage retail clerks, the hijinks they get in to during their daily routine, and the customers that are the bane of their existence. This introduced the world to Jay and Silent Bob.
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