Final Friday Film: American Dream by Barbara Kopple

Directed by Barbara Kopple
USA, 1990, 100 min

 In 1984 the Hormel meat-packing company offered the union workers in Austin, Minnesota a new contract, cutting their wages from $10.69 per hour to $8.25 per hour—benefits would be cut by 30 percent. The workers were not filled with joy. The company had just declared an annual profit of $29 million, the cuts were inspired by owners wanting to maximize profits beyond that on the backs and cuts in health and life spans of the workers and their families.

American Dream chronicles the six-month strike that followed during 1985 and 1986 at the Hormel meatpacking plant in Austin, Minnesota. The local union, P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers, overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer with a $2/hour wage cut. Following this the meat workers strike and hire a New York consultant to manage a national media campaign against Hormel. Despite support from P-9’s rank and file, FCWU’s international disagrees with the strategy. In addition to union-company tension, there’s union-union in-fighting. Hormel holds firm; scabs, replacement workers, brothers on opposite sides, a union coup d’état, and a new contract materialize. The film asks, was it worth it, or was the strike a long-term disaster for organized labor?

In many ways, the Hormel plant in bucolic Minnesota seemed like the least likely site for a labor-management inferno. The company’s founders had been of a paternalistic bent, and Austin’s hourly wage of $10.69 was the industry standard. But in 1984, despite profits of $29 million, Hormel announced plans to cut that wage by 23%. “What are we going to have to give up,” one worker worried, “when they show a loss for the quarter?”—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, March 1992

Barbara Kopple, who had previously covered an extended miner’s strike in the acclaimed 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA, focuses on the personalities and emotions behind the strike, creating a highly charged portrait of labor that is sympathetic to the workers’ distress without ignoring the strike’s greater ambiguities.

 

Ticket prices are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

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Fascism: Then and Now

Fascism Then and Now: A Community Roundtable

Friends of the MEP and the Left community at large are invited to discuss the meaning and signficance of fascism and how to recognize it and struggle against it in world politics today. We hope to debate questions such as: What is the nature of fascism in relation to nationalism/racism, misogyny, social/community dissolution? Is or is not the Trump phenomenon an example or at least a precursor of fascism in the USA? Are there important political movements in other countries that could be called fascist? Is the social psychology of fascism the same today as it was in the 20th century? Are theAre there other forms of authoritarian capitalism that are not fascism, and why might it matter? Current facilitators are Peter Bratsis, Michael Pelias, Dan Karan, Alex Steinberg, David Worley (moderator).

Others are welcome to join as facilitators; each facilitator will offer a three minute (no longer) opening statement, after which the floor will be open for general discussion.

The image is from a deck of anti-fascist playing cards created during the Siege of Leningrad in 1943

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We Make Our Own History: On Marxism and Social Movements

We Make Our Own History: On Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism
Talk and Discussion with Alf Gunvald Nilsen

We live in the twilight of neoliberalism: the ruling classes can no longer rule as before, and ordinary people are no longer willing to be ruled in the old way. Pursued by global elites since the 1970s, neoliberalism is defined by dispossession and ever-increasing inequality. The refusal to continue to be ruled like this — “ya basta!” — appears in an arc of resistance stretching from rural India to the cities of the global North.

We Make Our Own History — a book co-written by Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen — investigates this scenario through an exploration of how social movements are forging new visions of a future beyond neoliberalism and by reclaiming Marxism as a theory born from activist experience and practice. In this talk, Alf Gunvald Nilsen will discuss some of the main arguments and ideas put forward in the book with reference to changing movement landscapes in different parts of the world-system.

Alf Gunvald Nilsen is associate professor of sociology at the University of Bergen (Norway) and Visiting Senior Researcher at the Society, Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). He is the author of Dispossession and Resistance in India: The River and the Rage (Routledge, 2010) and the co-editor of numerous books on social movement theory and research, including Marxism and Social Movements (Brill/Haymarket, 2013) and New Subaltern Politics: Reconceptualizing Hegemony and Resistance in Contemporary India (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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