Friday, March 09, 2007

The Wobblies

from Christie Books Channel at Brightcove
s p o i l e r

The Wobblies.
A film by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer "Solidarity! All for One and One for All!" With that slogan, the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, took to organizing unskilled workers into one big union and changing the course of history. Along the way to winning an eight-hour workday and fair wages in the early 20th century, the Wobblies were one of the few unions to be racially and sexually integrated and often met with imprisonment, violence, and the privations of prolonged strikes. This award-winning film airs a provocative look at the forgotten American history of this most radical of unions, screening the unforgettable and still-fiery voices of Wobbly members--lumberjacks, migratory workers, and silk weavers--in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Eerily echoing current times, THE WOBBLIES boldly investigates a nation torn by naked corporate greed and the red-hot rift between the industrial masters and the rabble-rousing workers in the field and factory. Replete with gorgeous archival footage, the film pays tribute to American workers who took the ideals of equality and free speech seriously enough to die for them. Directed by Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer, THE WOBBLIES is a rare and challenging invitation to rethink both past and present through the eyes of an organization largely written out of history. Along with filming interviews with these stalwarts, the directors ¿ Stewart Bird and Deborah Shaffer ¿ have collected songs, posters, portraits and animated and live-action footage of the period. In assembling these ingredients, they divide their attention between actual and exaggerated images of the labor movement ¿ between the facts of its history and the propaganda. The propaganda is so compelling that, even now, it seems to exist on a bolder scale. It works both ways: in addition to all the pro-I.W.W. graphics and the rousing songs, the film makers have unearthed the kinds of anti-Wobbly material that eventually led to the union's decline. One cartoon shows a farmer, drawn to look like Abraham Lincoln, protecting bags of produce from a large rat, identified as an I.W.W. "Bolshevist." Another, this one from the Disney studio, is about life at Alice's Egg Plant after the Little Red Henski arrives, direct from Moscow and wearing a cap and beard like Lenin's, to organize the other chickens. The animated hens, with cries of "Shorter hours!" and "Smaller eggs!" are soon rebelling against Alice. Alice is played by a real little girl, to emphasize either the innocence or frivolousness of management, depending on one's point of view. "The Wobblies" is particularly vivid in detailing what life was like in the lumber camps. There is footage of lumberjack teams felling trees that are wider than the workers are tall; one still photograph shows a man lying sideways in a cavity in a tree trunk. The loggers are also seen at mealtimes, while one man ¿ in voice-over ¿ recalls that the plates were kept nailed to the tables, so they couldn't be stolen. They couldn't be cleaned, either.

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

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