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Honoring Workers on Labor Day

by Sarah Soliman

Like the rest of our national holidays, Labor Day gives us a much-appreciated Monday off. It might be our most important reprieve from work, given that Labor Day honors the American worker, especially those who fought for the eight-hour work day and the creation of the weekend. So what better way to spend this hard-won day off than with a movie marathon that celebrates workers?    

9 to 5
This 1980s classic is notable for the wild, sunny, comical antics of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, who turn the tables on their sexist, stupid boss, and change their workplace for the better. Rated PG.  

Bound for Glory 
When the Dust Bowl overtakes his native Oklahoma in the early 1930s, struggling young musician Woody Guthrie (David Carradine) joins the great westward migration to southern California. Guthrie finds his populist political voice when he meets singer and union agitator Ozark Bule. Director Hal Ashby adapted this film from Guthrie’s autobiography of the same title. Rated PG.

Cesar Chavez 
Chronicling the birth of a modern American labor movement, Cesar Chavez tells the story of the famed civil rights leader and labor organizer torn between his duties as a husband and father and his commitment to securing a living wage for farm workers. Passionate but soft-spoken, Chavez embraced non-violence as he battled greed and prejudice in his struggle to bring dignity to working people. Rated PG-13.

Dolores Huerta is among the most important activists in American history. An equal partner in co-founding the first farm workers unions with Cesar Chavez, Dolores tirelessly fought alongside him for racial and labor justice. This intimate documentary reveals the raw, personal stakes involved in committing one’s life to social change. Unrated.

Harlan County USA 
Four people were murdered during the 13-month miners’ strike depicted in Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning documentary—still one of the very best accounts of a labor strike committed to film. Kopple gives rare access to the fallout, and then some: black-lung woes, the struggles of women organizers, and every searingly personal aspect of this bitter fight. Rated PG.

Norma Rae 
Sally Field (in an Oscar-winning performance) shines in this classic about a woman who works at the local textile mill under terrible conditions for meager pay. Norma becomes a labor activist and rallies her coworkers to unionize. Rated PG.

North Country
Charlize Theron stars in this fictionalized—and harrowing—account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States: Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, in which a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner won the landmark 1984 lawsuit. Rated R.

Office Space 
In one of the funniest films ever made about the soul-sucking nature of (some) modern workplaces, three office workers strike back at their evil employers by hatching a hapless attempt to embezzle money. And who among us hasn’t wanted to attack a printer with a baseball bat? Rated R.

Salt of the Earth
Blacklisted in its time for the filmmakers’ ties to labor unions, this 1954 film features real miners alongside professional actors. An under-seen and urgent film, Salt of the Earth showcases the importance of women to the labor movement. Unrated.  

Support the Girls 
Regina Hall stars in this under-the-radar movie about the female employees at a Hooters-like restaurant that stands as one of the best depictions of what it’s like to be a woman in the service industry. Support the Girls offers a depiction of solidarity among workers that is equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking. Rated R.