Laid off with a mere 3 days’ notice (instead of the legally required 60 days) and denied severance, health insurance, and earned vacation pay, about 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago have been peacefully occupying the Republic factory for five days. Last night their union agreed to end their sit-in under severance terms enabled by additional lines of credit from Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase.
When I heard the news this morning, I said to myself, “That’s what unions can do.” (It probably helped a little, too, that the president-elect spoke out in support of the union.) I put on some Billy Bragg to celebrate. The YouTube video, of Bragg’s song “There Is Power in a Union” contains black-and-white stills and footage of workers and strikes, including scenes from the film The Salt of the Earth (1954). That film was based on the 1950 event in Grant County, New Mexico, when Mexican American miners went on strike for fair working conditions. When an injunction forbid the miners from picketing, their wives took over the picket lines and helped lead to a victory for the union in 1952.
Ellen Baker’s book On Strike and on Film examines the legendary strike and the film that told its story. The film became a unique collaboration between the mining families and another disempowered group–filmmakers blacklisted in Cold War Hollywood. A review in In These Times said of Baker’s book: “In Grant County, Salt of the Earth found only a single showing at the Silver Sky-Vue drive-in. On Strike and on Film presents that fact not in a close-up but from the panoramic view, part of Baker’s rich history of work, politics and creativity that restores the Mexican-American men and women of Grant County to the center of the story.”