Monday, January 26, 2009

MOVIE: Harlan County USA

Released back in 1978, I recently grabbed Harlan County USA after it was recommended by a friend. The summary says: This film documents the coal miners' strike against the Brookside Mine of the Eastover Mining Company in Harlan County, Kentucky in June, 1973. Eastovers 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 giving us some background on the historical plight of the miners and some history of the UMWA.

Harlan County USA is a very enlightening documentary about an interesting piece of rural history. Of course back in the early 70s I was a wee toddler, so I don't remember any of the events. But I know that today's liberal media would be alllllll over it if they had the chance.

Simple, back-woods folk fighting to maintain a bare minimum of a life for themselves and their families (some of them didn't have running water or their own bathrooms) in the face of a profit-hungry mining corporation. The miners were armed with axe handles and angry wives. The mining corp had the cops in their pocket and a shifty mine foreman that cruised around in his red pickup taking random shots at picket lines. Very interesting balance of citizens versus a Plutocracy. In the end, after a 10+ month strike, I don't think anyone won the fight.

It is a documentary. I enjoyed it. But I like semi-obscure pieces of history being elaborated upon. I will say that I fond it to be somewhat pro-union. Perhaps labor unions were required almost four decades ago. Seems that way, but I don't know for sure. The director spent a lot of time showing "what the union can do for you," yet only a few moments mentioning that radical pay increases required by the union would increase the cost of the end-product, and the consumers would bear the buden of that price increase. 35yrs later, most big businesses know that "Happy Workers = Productive Works," and I personally don't see the value of a labor union in most situations. Still, Harlan County USA made me much more aware of why some folks join a union, and I can see the value it added for them.

Not a date movie. Would bore the kids. Very niche audience. I liked it and think it is worth a rental on a slow weekend.

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