Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

Phil-OchsPhil Ochs loved movies. As a youth in Far Rockaway, he and his brother would see several films a week. Later, living in Los Angeles, he got a pass to the theater of the American Film Institute and spent much of the time he was not on tour watching movies. Still later, in New York City, he would go to movies with Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk to see films they knew so well they could recite the actors’ lines as they were spoken on screen. Continue reading



Welcome to tonight’s showing of the 2014 British film Pride, an award-winning biographical comedy-drama which was inspired by an extraordinary true story.  The screenplay was written by Stephen Beresford and directed by Matthew Warchus.

In the summer of 1984, Ronald Reagan was in the White House and his evil twin, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power in the United Kingdom. More than 100,000 coal miners organized the longest strike in British history against the closing of 20 coal pits, which would lay off tens of thousands of workers and effectively bust the mineworkers’ union.   This bitter strike prompted a group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the strikers’ families.  After all, both groups were being victimized by the same government.  Initially rejected by the union, the gay group targets a tiny mining village in Wales and heads there to make their donation in person.

The co-founder of “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM) Mark Ashton, who is played by Ben Schnetzer, displays engaging passion and dedication to the cause, as he challenges lesbians and gays to donate and join hands with the miners: “Mining communities are being bullied just like we are.  What they need is cash”.

Many people who are depicted in the film, both miners and former LGSM activists, have expressed appreciation for how honestly their struggles are portrayed in the movie Pride.  History and real people come to life on the screen, and by the end of the film, you know and love them.

The movie depicts what it means for ordinary people to work together for the common good and against insurmountable odds.

Mike Jackson, the other co-founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, thought this story would never be told.  He said: “You could glimpse a wonderful revolution, that spark of the dream of people being together. The film gets that so right. (LGSM) changed my life, it is the proudest thing I’ve done”.

Sian James, played by Jessica Gunning, says: “We have waited 30 years for this story to be told.” She was a new bride during the strike, and she was one of the first to embrace the gays, in part, she said, because she was thrilled to finally see some men on the dance floor of the union hall.

Sian is a crucial character in Pride because the events depicted in the film led her to become a political activist herself.  She said: “The nicest thing in our relationship with the gay men is that they were the first supportive men in our lives who weren’t family. To have men saying to us, ‘You’ve got skills and talent and you can’t allow that to pass,’ …it changed my life.”

LGSM was not a huge movement. But at the beginning of 1985, there were 11 LGSM groups around the United Kingdom. These groups contributed more to the strike funds than any other organization. Such determination — and solidarity — paid off.  After the strike had ended, LGBT people benefited from changes made to Labour Party policies when they were voted through with the support of the National Union of Mineworkers.

The year-long strike by the National Union of Mineworkers is still widely remembered in Britain, as both a high point of Thatcherism and as the beginning of the end of the country’s strong trade union movement.  In the 30 years since the strike, unions have been on the defensive, and there have been fewer opportunities for social justice movements to link up with workers.

Pride shows us that solidarity can and must be forged with unlikely alliances… and that through this process, workers will learn that they can set their sights higher for what is possible.  As Jerame Davis, Executive Director of Pride at Work notes, “The cause of labor is the cause of every LGBT person. Solidarity isn’t transactional, it’s transformational. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ is more than just a slogan for the labor movement. We should adopt it as our own.”





The Hand That Feeds

The-Hand-That-FeedsI would like to set the stage for this evening’s film by drawing some connections to Rochester.

The film we are about to view depicts the struggle of a group of low wage workers, mostly immigrants, many of them undocumented, working on the east side of Manhattan. They’ve been ripped off in their pay, not paid even the minimum wage, and they’ve received no overtime compensation. Their working conditions are all too typical of employment in 2015. Continue reading

The Wobblies


“Fellow Workers,” cried Bill Haywood as he opened the 1905 founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, “this is the Continental Congress of the working class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class…” Continue reading

Eight Men Out

Eight Men Out Photo
Tonight’s film is an historically accurate dramatization of events surrounding the 1919 World Series, which the Chicago White Sox deliberately lost to the Cincinnati Reds. John Sayles (director of the labor film classic Matewan) adapted the screenplay from Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book, Eight Men Out, which he closely follows. While both the book and the film explore the motives and actions of the players, gamblers and others involved in the fix and its aftermath, they differ in assigning responsibility. Where Asimof has the players suggest the fix to the gamblers, Sayles shows the gamblers at the outset discussing which players might be approached to throw games. Sayles presents the players more sympathetically — their behavior looks more like a labor action than an expression of personal greed.

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Prior to 2000 Robert Greenwald was a producer and director of commercial TV and feature films: that year’s stolen presidential election turned him into a documentary filmmaker concerned with such topics as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rupert Murdoch and the Koch brothers, whistleblowers and drones, and Walmart’s assault on the global economy.

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Nine to Five

Nine to FiveTwo years before Nine to Five opened, I was a medical insurance claims approver for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. About 370 of the roughly 400 office workers were women; of the 30 men, half were in management or decision-making positions. During my fourth week on the job, a co-worker looked furtively over her shoulder and whispered, “Vince! Sign this!” while tossing me a union authorization card. Continue reading

Cousin Jules

Cousin JulesCousin Jules is one of the best films you’ve never seen. Filmed over a five year period and exhibited to acclaim at festivals in 1972, Cousin Jules never found commercial distribution.

For one thing, the film’s format — cinemascope with stereophonic sound — required projection equipment not available in many movie houses, especially small art theaters to whose audience this film might appeal. Though aware of this problem, filmmaker Dominique Benicheti refused to release his work in another format, insisting that cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn’s images be seen as he intended. Continue reading

Box Car Bertha

Boxcar Bertha film stillIn Sister of the Road, published in 1937, Box-Car Bertha Thompson recounted her life: early years in her mother’s South Dakota boarding house; childhood stays in anarchist communes near Little Rock and Tacoma; hoboing alone, with one of her sisters or one of her lovers; working for a Chicago abortionist; running with a gang of midwest shoplifters; bedding 1500 men — one of whom fathered her daughter — during a two month prostitution stint; hitchhiking around the country collecting data on transient women; working for a pathology clinic in Chicago, running a women’s service bureau in Alabama and becoming secretary of New York City’s Unemployed Women’s Education Association. Continue reading