The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Culture Corner:
Norma Rae & Labor Wars

May 1, 2023

Movie: Norma Rae, 1979, director Martin Ritt, streaming on Hulu and HBOMax

This award-winning movie is based on the true story of a young single mom, played by Sally Fields, who survives by working in a non-union textile mill in North Carolina. Workers there face dangerous conditions which constantly threaten their health and safety. Norma Rae decides that she has to help organize her shop despite the problems and the dangers. The company tries to divert her by promoting her to a better and safer job. Her family and co-workers convince her it’s just a trick, and she goes back to the line. The company continues to try other dirty tricks: speeding up the line, putting out racist flyers, personal attacks, arresting the organizers. Norma Rae and the other organizers don’t give up—too much is at stake. Finally, the union election is held. But the real victory is the workers finding a way to come together in the face of all the attacks.

Book: Labor Wars, 1973, by Sidney Lens

The book tells the stories of the major American labor battles from the Molly Maguires to the Sit-Downs. Each chapter can stand alone. Each is a complete telling of an important battle in American labor history. The history still resonates in the factories, mills, construction crews, oil, and gas jobs, with truckers and in the meat packing plants today. Some say American workers are not as militant as in other countries. Yet one of the chapters tells that the origin of the internationally honored May Day was in May of 1886 in Chicago during a large fight for the 8-hour day. Tens of thousands of workers demonstrated or went out on strike for weeks to win the 8-hour day. Police roughed up, fired upon, and even killed some of the workers, but the organizing for the 8-hour day continued. This legacy lives on as each year, all over the world, workers rally on May Day. Each chapter reveals the proud and strong history of American workers.