Our favorite on-screen strikes

Norma_lIf the writers strike lasts for weeks or months to come weall need to come up with ways to deal. Michael Slezak has a great plan ofaction, and I plan to fill the void with the help of my Netflix queue. But the picketing and stalemate has inspired me to share my favorite on-screen strikes.

The most irrational/abandoned strike is Kramer’s one-manstandoff with H&H Bagels on Seinfeld.When his boss refuses to give him a day off for Festivus, Kramer goes onstrike and sabotages the steam valve on the bagel machine. Yet, despite hisnoble intentions, Kramer caves when he gets hungry without ever achievinganything. Alright, no actual workers’ rights were actually at stake here, butthe episode certainly explained why Kramer never worked.

Without a doubt the best strike set to music is Newsies. Christian Bale is Jack Kelly, ateen newsie who leads other newsboys in a strike against Joseph Pulitzer(Robert Duvall). The movie’s a cheese-fest, but I’m a sucker for any story inwhich kids successfully challenge adult authority. Honestly, it doesn’t takemuch to make me want to watch Newsies butit’s always better to have an excuse ready when watching a movie directed by aman who also did High School Musical. Watch the start of the newsies’ strike, and you’ll see what I mean (oh, and forgive Christian Bale for his bad New York accent, it was one of his early movies).

addCredit(“Norma Rae: Everett Collection”)

The most poignant strike overshadowed by a dancing boy isthe coal miner’s strike in BillyElliot. The miner’s struggle takes a backseat to the dancing, but the filmrealistically portrays the difficult choices that families must face during astrike. Jackie, Billy’s dad, eventually crosses the picket line because of hisbelief in Billy ("It’s for wee Billy! He may be a f—ing genius for all we know!). But, this being the movies, the town rallies behind Billy andcomes up with the money to send him on his audition, so Jackie doesn’t have tobe a scab.

Finally, there is no on-screen strike more iconic than in Norma Rae, which is based on a truestory. Sally Field won her first Oscar for her portrayal of the titular singlemother who fights unionize her textile mill. One of the movie’s iconic moments comeswhen Norma Rae stands up on a table in the middle of the shop, holding acardboard sign that says, "UNION" (pictured). It is animage that has come to epitomize NormaRae and disenfranchised workers in general.

Now that I’ve revealed my picks, it’s your turn PopWatchers.Besides miners, mill workers, and Kramer, whose fight against workplace injustice have you enjoyedon-screen? Share your favorites below.

Comments (36 total) Add your comment
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  • EP Sato

    On the serious side you’ve scored. But Ms. Piedmont, where’s your love of satire? IMHO, the best on-screen strike was on the Simpsons, when Homer Simpson became head of the Nuclear power plant employees union. Everything from the strike to the strikebreaking cops (brought in from the 1920s) stands as a great parody of organized labor.
    Best line of them all?
    “You can’t treat the working man like this! Someday we’ll form a union, and we’ll get the ehtical and equitable treatment we deserve. But then we’ll get lazy and shiftless and the Japanese will eat us alive!”
    The retort:
    “The JAPANESE? Those sandal wearing goldfish tenders? Never!”

  • Lisa Simpson

    So we’ll march day and night by the big cooling tower, as they have the plant but we’ve got the power!

  • actingup

    Ah – I love “Newsies”! Mainly because Christian Bale was so cute. But there were some really good songs – I loved the song “Santa Fe”.

  • john

    i believe kramer ended the strike because he had to use the bathroom, but i might be wrong

  • Chip

    Salt of the Earth! Don’t forget Salt of the Earth. 1954 movie about a mining strike made by blacklisted filmmakers!

  • cruzilla

    A really great strike movie is John Sayles’ “Matewan” starring Sayles’ mainstays Chris Cooper and David Straitharn.

  • snickersnee

    Love this post! Were there any other strikes that you left out that you felt were important? I must say Charlie Chaplin’s involvement, though brief, in Modern Times, was a great one. Love your writting! Can’t wait to see more of it!

  • Dawn

    To be honest, I can’t even remember if there was ever any kind of strike involved because the movie was such a snooze, but “North Country” definitely portrayed the union mentality well.
    And for super campy strike fun, “The Pajama Game” with Doris Day and John Raitt is chock-full of kick ass Fosse choreography.

  • mscisluv

    Newsies!! Love it.

  • Jasmine

    Never has a strike been more heartbreakingly captured on film than in Matewan(1987). It depicted the way strikes were handled back in the day, with tragic consequences.

  • gabrielle

    Props for the Newsies shout out. I love showing it to kids A)for the singing and dancing and B) to teach them about solidarity, humans rights and cute boys in suspenders.

  • BrandonK

    Oh, Newsies…how I loved that movie. I discovered it on video one summer when I was about 17 and watched it many, many times. Christian Bale may not be proud of it, but I still think of it fondly. I even bought the music book so I could play the songs on the piano! Still, I have a feeling that if he hadn’t been in it, I might not have been quite as interested…

  • Nix

    Ah, Newsies. The one, the only, the inestimable. C’mon, if the lyrics “And the world will know/ And the world will learn/ And the world will wonder / How we made the tables turn/ And the world will see/ That we had to choose/ That the things we do today/ Will be tomorrow’s news” don’t move you just a little bit, you need an aspiration transplant.

  • mollyj

    thank you thank you thank you for giving it a shout out. i’ve been in love with that movie since i saw it in the movie theaters about 15 years ago. it might be cheesy and campy, but oh man it’s great!

  • Chris G

    My favorite strike is in the terrific indie film Happiness. Poor Jane Adams has to cross the picket line to go to work and the strikers throw tomatoes at her and call her a scab. She replys in that oh so impish Jane Adams way: I’m not a scab!
    And i love the episode of Married with Children when the breast feeding moms take a stand at Al’s shoe store. Great stuff.

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