Saturday, 23 January 2010

Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff


Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff is the excellent title of a newly published volume on the history of films about the labour movement. There is some useful online material around this subject, but this is probably, currently the best book on the subject.

From Salt of the Earth to Roger and Me the book explores the fundamentally important role that film has played in exploring the challenges of organised labour and promoting its importance.

Although referred to all too briefly the book naturally includes one of my all time favourite trade union films, Matewan, which dramatises beautifully the plight of striking miners in the 1920's West Virginia Coalfields. Although brutal at times in its depiction of the savagery of anti-trade union tactics, the film is ultimately an inspirational testament to the need to collectively organise. There is a great write up of the background of the actual dispute and of the film itself at:

The book is available for purchase via the LaborStart online bookstore:

I'd really welcome feedback on the film that helped inspire your trade union activity and/or epitomises the best (or even worst)of the trade union movement.




Jonny said...

Can I include Spartacus in the list of famous films that inspire collective activity?

I don't know if it's in the book you refer to but not only is it an ultiate favorite of mine, but surely it is seen across the globe as a true story of slavery overcoming imperalist might!

Indeed the Spartacist League must surely be branded after the film, or whatver mythical (or true) story that is drawn from centuries past.

I think you can though find of trade union resonance in many films not automatically associated with the movement.

Any film that depicts the truly isolting experience of work and the workplace is a good fodder for engendering the collective spirit.

Keep up the good work!

Ian Manborde said...

Thanks Jon,

Yes, I think we can agree that Spartacus has acted as a call to action over the years, and yes the Spartacist League were inspired by the story of Spartans.

I remember being a very young trade unionist and coming across a group of League members at a rally in London. They were dressed in black and held up black flags.

Thanks for the contribtion.



Alan said...


Any film on the miner's strike (from an independent view) for me will always portray the best spirit of trade unionism and allow workers generally to see what is best about trade unionism.


Jenni said...

Im not sure this one counts Ian interms of the new book but The BOys from the BLackstuff although not about trade unions came from a time where unions were being hammered but were more relevant then that any other time. Jen

Ian Manborde said...

Thanks for the last 2 comments Alan and Jenni,

A really good mix of film and both portraying a fairly bleak 80s landscape of job losses, fullscale anti-trade union activity and a dire jobs/labour market. I'd have to agree and say that this is fertile trade union/mobilisation imagery.

Interesting issue though is whether in fact film/drama at the time was contributing to on-going debate about the future of the movement - your thoughts?



台中 said...


ShopSteward85 said...

Thanks for this, hadn't heard of the book.