Democratic Left

A Second Look for Labor Films

Whether you’re watching in your own home or (better yet) sponsoring a showing with a discussion, labor films are a great way to reconnect with the passion and purpose of the labor movement. We polled the guest editors, Democratic Left board, DSA Fund board, and members of the National Political Committee and staff to pick some favorites. You won’t see Norma Rae here, not because we don’t like it, but because we want to bring you other classics. Feel free to write your own 100-word review of your favorite in the comment section.  Eds.

Blue Collar/thisdistractedglobe

Blue Collar stars Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto, and Harvey Keitel as assembly plant production workers who hate their jobs, loathe their bosses, and think their union does nothing for them. Stuck in place with families and debt, they devise a scheme to rob the union safe. Instead of money they find evidence of financial links to the mob that can be used for extortion. To neutralize them, the union offers Zeke (Pryor) the committeeman’s job, the FBI turns Jerry (Keitel) while the company engineers the on-site murder of Smokey (Kotto), who can’t be bought. What the plot lacks in credibility, it makes up for in atmosphere. The dialog happens against the thrum of machinery; a pounding score by Jack Nitzsche adds to the tension. If the film is hard on the union, it’s exactly right on how capitalism degrades work. Michael Hirsch

Bread and Roses: This 2000 film is based on the “Justice for Janitors” campaign in 1999 Los Angeles. The title evokes the seminal 1912 textile mill strikes of Lawrence, Massachusetts, but focuses on a thoroughly modern working class--undocumented immigrants--with a Mexican protagonista. Gender and race are explored imperfectly, such as when the white, male union organizer outlines in a clear (and thus potentially condescending) way the step-by-step process of labor organizing, but the film is a powerful celebration of collective action and the transformative power of taking such action. Maria Svart

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Thinking About Gender - Part 2

We scheduled this post and Part 1 in celebration of today, Women's Equality Day, which commemorates U.S. women achieving the right to vote by the ratification in 1920 of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Since then, notions of female and male continue to evolve, and new contestations emerged. -- Ed.

By Christine R. Riddiough


Gender shapes our lives from their very beginning. In part 1 of this blog post, I described two characteristics of gender as defined in the mid-20th century:

  • It is binary – you are defined as either female or male when you’re born - when the doctor, nurse or midwife wraps the baby in a pink or blue blanket.
  • It is a personal characteristic – everybody has one gender, the one they’re born with and that defines who they are and how they should act throughout their lives.

In discussing the gender binary in part 1, I defined four dimensions of gender: biology, identity, expression, orientation. The assumption most people have had is that each of these dimensions should be aligned. Biological females are women, who dress and act femininely and who are attracted to and have relationships with men.

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Thinking About Gender - Part 1


By Christine R. Riddiough 

Editors' note:

We scheduled this post and the next in celebration (perhaps ironic celebration) of Women's Equality Day, which commemorates U.S. women achieving the right to vote by the ratification in 1920 of the 19th amendment to the Constitution. Since then, notions of female and male continue to evolve, and new contestations emerged.

In its October 15, 2013, issue, the New York Times asked the question, "Are ‘Trans Rights’ and ‘Gay Rights’ Still Allies?" Two things in that debate (and in other similar discussions on the Internet and at conferences) stood out for me as a socialist feminist:

  • the fact that the question was asked at all
  • the fact that, in talking about these gender-related issues, there is no mention of the fight for women's rights/liberation

From a socialist feminist perspective the response to the title question has to be a resounding "Yes." But the failure of the article (and to a large extent the LGBTQ movement) to really address the second point shows the limits of the question.

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Justice for Michael Brown: Community Control of Police and Equality for All

Statement by the Democratic Socialists of America National Political Committee, August 21, 2014

Democratic Socialists of America calls for a full federal civil rights investigation into the killing of Michael Brown and an end to the militarization of local police forces. The action of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department exemplifies the dangers to the lives of ordinary Americans, particularly people of color, posed by overly aggressive, heavily armed police forces.

Over the past thirty years, federal, state and local government have abandoned commitments to fighting poverty and unemployment, conditions that disproportionately limit the life opportunities of young persons of color. Most low income youth only encounter the state as a repressive force that relegates them to a life within the prison-industrial complex, even for the most minor and non-violent of drug-related offenses. These activities rarely lead white youth to be arrested, let alone imprisoned.

In the case of Ferguson, Missouri, police-mandated media blackouts and the pervasive detainment, harassment and arrest of journalists cloud public understanding of the ongoing crisis. The constant barrage of tear gas canisters into crowds, backyards and neighborhood streets in recent days has further hampered a full understanding of the situation on the ground.

What is clear is that on August 9th, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, a young black man.

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Occupy Davis to Democratic Socialism

Davis Democratic Socialists

By Melody Yee

In 2011, millions of people saw the footage of police officer John Pike pepper-spraying seated, unarmed protesters at the University of California-Davis, and many followed subsequent investigations, demonstrations, and court cases. But an under-reported story from Occupy Davis is that the movement brought together five activists, including one of those who were attacked, to form the Davis Democratic Socialists (DDS), which is affiliated with the Young Democratic Socialists (YDS). It now has about 20 active members and is one of the most politically active groups on the UC Davis campus. 

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The Activist’s Guide to 
Using DSA Literature


By Elizabeth Henderson

Now that the weather is warmer and the days longer, it’s time to set up a DSA table in a high-traffic site. Whether you’re collecting signatures for the Drop Student Debt! petition, running a get-out-the-vote campaign, or spreading the word about the need to increase the minimum wage, the DSA website has something you can use. Here’s a quick rundown of how to find literature, adapt it to a specific campaign, and arrange it on your table in a way that makes folks want to stop and learn more about what your local chapter is doing.

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Classics of Class: Spot-on, After All These Years

By Michael Hirsch
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists
By Robert Tressell


We don’t think of philanthropists as ragged: louche, maybe even a tad shabby, as with trust-fund hipsters or Palo Alto billionaires, but never ragged. In writing his early-twentieth-century British classic, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell (the pen name of Robert Noonan) wanted to drive home his point. The biggest benefactors of the rich are workers. His is a portrait of hard-pressed working people and their counterintuitive respect and political and economic support for their rulers.

Tressell’s figures, drawn from his own experiences as a house painter and sign writer, not only accept the social order and its extremes as natural and inevitable, but think that only slackers complain about the pitiless hard work and early deaths.

A hundred years after publication, the central message of the book rings true. It was an instant success in 1914 and remains the pre-eminent novel of the British working-class left. The full manuscript was first published in the United States in 1962 and was re-issued in the United Kingdom with new material in 2010. Largely autobiographical—the subtitle reads, “Being the Story of Twelve Months in Hell, told by one of the damned, and written down, by Robert Tressell”—it’s a curious and successful amalgam of art and socialist propaganda.

The descriptions of working-class life, including everyday interactions and the physical conditions of workers’ homes, show an eye for detail that rivals Henry James and the best ethnographies. The book centers on a group of house painters, skilled workers who are underpaid, poorly educated, and always in debt—for necessities, not luxuries. Beaten down as they are, they still vote for their bosses’ two parties—in their day the Tories and Liberals (the newly emerging Labour Party was still a minor player).

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Rosa Luxemburg for Today

By Nicole Shippen

Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy
Edited by Jason Schulman
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 214 pp.

The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg: 
Volume I: Economic Writings 1
Edited by Peter Hudis
Verso, 2013, 596 pp.

Red Rosa
Conceived and illustrated by Kate Evans 
and edited by Paul Buhle
Forthcoming, Verso, 2015


Rosa Luxemburg, a heroic and principled figure of the left, died in 1919 at the hands of the right-wing German Social Democratic Party (SPD) leadership’s militarist Freikorps (Volunteer Corps) allies. When they murdered her and her comrade Karl Leibknecht and threw their bodies into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal, they made Luxemburg a martyr for the socialist workers’ movement. A Polish-German secular Jew, a Marxist political economist and theorist, Luxemburg was a prominent leader of the left wing of the SPD, founder of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, and, later, of the Spartacus League and the German Communist Party.

Luxemburg lived and wrote during the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution and was witness to historical conditions ripe for actively rethinking socialist theory and practice. The episodic resurrection of Luxemburg’s political thought continues to inflame the political imagination of socialists committed to belief in the democratic possibilities of mass resistance and faith in the long-run capacity of the working class to rebel against capitalism, as demonstrated in her theory of spontaneity. Today, the protests in Tahrir Square, of the indignados in Spain, of Turkish activists in Gezi Park, the piqueteros in Argentina, the SYRIZA Party in Greece, Occupy Wall Street, and many other forms of popular resistance indicate that Luxemburg could appeal to yet another generation. She, too, grappled with what socialist parties and activists should and could do in relation to such protests.

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Democratic Left September Conference Call (9PM Eastern)

September 30, 2014 · 5 rsvps
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Do you want to connect with other DSA members? Not near or able to participate in a local chapter? Join us as we discuss the Labor Day issue of DSA's magazine, Democratic Left.

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