The Unions and the Mobs

The Unions and the Mobs

John Ford in Grapes of Wrath, Martin Ritt in The Molhv Maguires, Hal Ashby in Bound for Glory have all shown that the union movement can be powerful material for the screen. Yet we do not have in this country the Hollywood equivalent of Eisenstein’s Strike or even Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer. The closest we come are independent productions like Herbert Biberman’s Salt of the Earth or such documentaries as Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A. Hollywood directors, even when they have had a star like Henry Fonda or Sean Connery or David Carradine at their disposal,have tended to mute their union issues and in the end replace them with some other concern.

Two recent films, Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar and Norman Jewison’s F.I. S.T., reflect this same pattern. Although unions?those of the auto workers and teamsters?are central to each picture, they are in the end films that rely on the mob and gangland killings for dramatic impact. The unions in Blue Collar and F.I.S.T. are so dependent on organized crime for their survival that often both films seem perfectly matched to the current political climate in which “sophistication” consists in assuming that all unions, like any organization from General Motors to the CIA, are corrupt and will automatically break the law to get their way. When interviewed, both directors have said as much. “In my mind, the government, the company, and the unions are all the same. They are the Captains of Industry, who rule the world,” Paul Schrader recently observed, and in answer to a question about the purposes of F.I.S.T., Norman Jewison told the New York Times, “It is really about power and how power corrupts.”

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels