This iconic picture of Sally Field as Norma Rae holding the Union sign is to remind people of the reason for the Labor Day Holiday. For her performance in the 1979 film Norma Rae, Sally Field received the Best Actress award. The movie was based on the real life of textile worker Crystal Lee Jordan and her experiences in her support to bring the Union to textile workers in this country in the 1970’s. Bosses are always adamant about unions…they just don’t like them, because as we all know if wages fall there is more corporate profit. Studios did not want to touch this project; Alan Ladd Jr. took a chance for 20th Century Fox. There were three actresses that turned down the roll; but were nominated for Best Actress in other roles that year. Jill Clayburgh in Starting Over, Jane Fonda in The China Syndrome and Marsha Mason in Chapter Two.
In the 1980’s during the classic Hollywood actor turned President Ronald Reagan years Ronald encouraged part time work with no benefits, a definite perk for big business. As long as a worker did not go over the 35 hour mark their employers did not have to provide benefits. Even today in the teen part of this century it became a law that anyone working over 30 hours was to receive benefits. Employers then knocked themselves out to bypass this law by cutting workers hours to 29 hours a week. Companies, even Public Libraries cut unwanted (those deemed as trouble makers for a new regime) non-union full time employees to as low as 15 hours a week in hopes those employee’s would quit. Or they terminate non-union part-time workers with no legitimate explanation at all.
Our parents, grandparents and great grandparents in the past, turned towards unions for: dignity in the work place, a decent working wage with benefits, and decent work hours. The cavalier attitude by bosses of ‘if you don’t like it go somewhere else’ is as real today as it was in the past. Sometimes there is nowhere else to go. They seem to forget that it is through the hard work of the little people that they reap their financial rewards.
So take a pause on this Labor Day to remember that history does repeat itself. And to remember other classichollywood films that moved us and brought to our attention the real life struggle in the workplace that still goes on today.
Grapes of Wrath (1939) 20th Century Fox
How Green Was My Valley (1941) 20th Century Fox
On the Waterfront (1954) Columbia