Rethinking Anarchism

Too Sad to Cry: A Mini-review of Barbara Kopple’s “American Dream”
November 20, 2008, 3:40 am
Filed under: movies | Tags: , , , , ,

I cried during “Salt of the Earth.” I cried during “Harlan County, USA.” I almost cried during “American Dream,” but I didn’t. It’s odd, because “American Dream” is the most tragic of these three movies.

Barbara Kopple’s “American Dream” is a documentary about the heroic strike of UFCW Local P-9, based in Austin, MN, against Hormel. In the reactionary climate of the 1980s, Corporate America was taking all it could get from workers, ramming concessions down unions throats. But the workers didn’t just have to contend with greedy corporations. The labor movement was rotting from within. Union bureaucrats were too lazy, uncreative, or scared to back up workers who did dare to fight back.

When UFCW Local P-9 in Austin, MN voted to strike with a 93% majority, the International refused to support them. Instead, union bureaucrats began sowing discord in the ranks of the workers, and eventually ordered striking workers back to work and put their local into trusteeship.

The strike was lost. Perhaps the workers were up against unbeatable odds. This was the analysis of the labor bureaucrats in the International. I don’t share their analysis, I think this strike could have been won with the support of the International.

Either way, I am reminded of words I heard from a Wobbly a few weeks ago at a retreat in Chicago: “Solidarity over strategy, every time.” We need to fight to win. But we will never win if we go against our most basic principle: solidarity. And if we forget our principles in the pursuit of victory, it will be a hollow win if we win at all.

Kopples’ movie is supposed to reflect America in a microcosm. There haven’t been too many labor victories we can be proud of in America in the two decades since P-9. It’s been a sad time for working people. Maybe I didn’t cry during “American Dream” because I’ve personally become numb to defeat. It’s always the same story. I don’t cry out of sadness any more. Now, I cry out of hope. I cry when I see workers standing together, fighting against any odds, fighting because it’s the right thing to do.

Battles are fought, some won some lost, but the struggle always continues, the workers rising again and again no matter the odds. And as long as the struggle continues, I will continue to be inspired by the possibilities latent in the human heart, always reigniting my hope that together, we can build a world more beautiful than anything we can imagine. This is what moves me too tears, every time.