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More great grit films

January 28, 2010
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The Navigators (2002) is a British film directed by Ken Loach with screenplay by Rob Dawber. It tells the story of the reactions of five Sheffield rail workers to the privatisation of the railway maintenance organisation for which they all work, and the consequences for them. The film was inspired by the failure of the Connex South Central and the Connex South Eastern franchises: Connex lost both franchises because of poor service.

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH (New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health)

Salt of the Earth (1954) is an American drama film written by Michael Wilson, directed by Herbert J. Biberman, and produced by Paul Jarrico. All had been blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment due to their involvement in socialist politics. The movie became a historical phenomenon and has a cult following due to how the United States establishment (politicians, journalists, studio executives, and other trade unions) dealt with the film. Salt of the Earth is one of the first pictures to advance the feminist social and political point of view. The film centers on a long and difficult strike led by Mexican-American and Anglo miners against the Empire Zinc Company. The film shows how the miners, the company, and the police react during the strike. In neorealist style the producers and director used actual miners and their families as actors in the film.

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH

Matewan (1987) is an American drama film written and directed by John Sayles, illustrating the events of a coal mine-workers' strike and attempt to unionize in 1920 in Matewan, a small town in the hills of West Virginia. Based on the Battle of Matewan, the film features Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, David Strathairn, Kevin Tighe and Will Oldham. Coal miners, struggling to form a union, are up against company operators and gun thugs; Black and Italian miners, brought in by the company to break the strike, are caught between the two forces. Union activist and ex-Wobbly Joe Kenehan, sent to help organize the union, determines to bring the local, Black, and Italian groups together. Drawn from an actual incident; the characters of Sid Hatfield, Cabell Testerman, C. E. Lively, and Few Clothes Johnson were based on real people.

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH

Harlan County, USA is a 1976 film documenting the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastover’s refusal to sign a contract (when the miners joined with the United Mine Workers of America) led to the strike, which lasted more than a year and included violent battles between gun-toting company thugs/scabs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk. Director Barbara Kopple puts the strike into perspective by providing background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH

North Country (2005) Based on an inspiring real-life event that took place in the 1970s, North Country stars Charlize Theron in another low-glamour but high-impact role as Josey Aimes, one of only a handful of women working in the Minnesota iron mines. Forced to labor under sexist conditions, she and her female colleagues decide to stand up against the unrelenting harassment from their male counterparts. Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek and Woody Harrelson co-star.

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH

Silkwood While working at an Oklahoma nuclear power plant, Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) becomes exposed to radiation. When the official investigation is tampered with, Karen conducts her own inquiry … but she disappears under suspicious circumstances before its completion. Kurt Russell costars in this fact-based drama, which was nominated for multiple Oscars and earned Cher a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her minimalist performance

Submitted by Dave Newman of NYCOSH

Let’s not forget that all-time classic, Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin, 1936. He plays a factory worker dehumanized by industrial efficiency. Work place stress and ergonomic hazards abound. It is a powerful reminder that employees are people and not cogs in a machine.

Thank you for your list: I’ll be using my NetFlix account to try and see many of them! On a larger note, thank you for continuing to shine a light on workplace health and safety! I try to read all of your columns. Regards, Mary Anne Mary Anne Chillingworth, MSPH, CIH, CSP. Project Enhancement Corporation, 20300 Century Blvd., Suite 175. Germantown, MD 20874, Phone: 240/686-3059; Fax: 240/686-3959

I hated Blue Collar. First, the protagonist commits the robbery to pay for dental procedure, but auto workers have dental insurance better than anyone else's. Second, the bad guys murder the African American by locking him in an operating in a paint booth, which wouldn't happen. It was filmed in the Checker plant in Kalamazoo (I think Kazoo), then the only non-union assembly plant in the U.S.

Frank Mirer, former health and safety director of the United Auto Workers, currently a professor at Hunter College in New York City.

Fire Down Below (1997) Action star Steven Seagal plays Jack Taggart, an undercover Environmental Protection Agency operative sent to a crumbling Kentucky mining town to investigate the death of a fellow agent. Posing as a church carpenter, Taggart learns that slimy business magnate Orin Hanner (Kris Kristofferson) has been illicitly dumping toxic waste in abandoned mines. That information got Taggart's colleague murdered -- a scenario the mogul is prepared to repeat.

Big Night(1996). A failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers gambles on one special night to try to save the business. Staring Stanley Tucci. A great food movie with abundant hard work.

9 To 5(1980). Three female employees of a "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" find a way to turn the tables on him.

I’ll have to submit “Hellfighters” (1968) with John Wayne as the oil well fire specialist Chance Buckman (based on real-life Red Adair), who extinguishes massive fires in oil fields around the world. The stress and toll it takes on him and his family forms a great story.
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Work - Grit Films

Ken Waegerle
February 4, 2010
It is interesting that all of your movie choices are all antagonistic toward employers. Having worked in government, private consulting, ship yards, textiles and construction related industries over the last 33 years; it has been my experience that the most positive & productive work environments were union free, had open management structures with minimal bureaucracy, credible quality processes and a strong safety ethic. But then again, I guess that type of workplace doesn’t make for ‘good’ entertainment. You could add ‘Gray Lady Down’ to the movie list; now there is a choice work environment! Yet there are men that do, I did.

Work-grit films and occupational safety

Scott Bowers
February 16, 2010
I must submit the silent film, Metropolis, which I last saw about 20 years ago. From Wikipedia: Metropolis is a 1927 silent German expressionist science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang. Produced in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and makes use of a science-fiction context to explore a political theme of the day: the social crisis between workers and owners in capitalism. The film was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The most expensive silent film ever made, it cost approximately 7 million Reichsmark. The film is set in the massive, sprawling futuristic mega-city Metropolis, whose society is divided into two classes: one of planners and management, who live high above the Earth in luxurious skyscrapers, and one of workers, who live and toil underground. The city was founded, built, and is run by the autocratic Johann Fredersen. Like all the other sons of the managers of Metropolis, Freder, Fredersen's son, lives a life of luxury in the theatres and stadiums of the skyscraper buildings. One day, as he is playing in the Eternal Gardens, he notices that a beautiful girl has appeared with many children of the workers. She is quickly shooed away, but Freder becomes infatuated with her and follows her down to the worker's underworld. There, he experiences firsthand the horrors of the worker's life, and is disgusted when he sees an enormous machine, known as the M-Machine, violently explode and kill dozens of workers. In the smoke, Freder envisions the M-Machine as Moloch, a monstrous deity to which the hapless workers are sacrificed.

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