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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.Written by
Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
When filming began, the film was intended to be about the 1972 campaign by Arnold Miller and Miners For Democracy to unseat UMWA president Tony Boyle, in the aftermath of Joseph Yablonski's murder; but the Harlan County strike began and caused the filmmakers to change their principal subject, with the campaign and murder becoming secondary subjects. See more »
Hawley Wells Jr.:
that was when I learned my first real political lesson, about what happens when you take a position against the coal operators, against the capitalists... I found out that the union officials were working with the coal companies. I also found that the Catholic hierarchy was working with the coal companies. Here was a combination of the whole thing, you see: you had to bump against the whole combination of them.
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After voting for almost 1000 films in the Internet Movie Database I rate Harlan County USA as the best film I've ever seen. I think that means that it moved me more than any other. I've seen it four times but not for many years.
Last night I watched the made for TV Harlan County War, but switched the video off half way through. It didn't add anything to the original documentary which also covered this long strike at the Brookside mine in 1973. In fact the dramatisation made the unfolding events of the strike look somewhat predictable and cliched - playing out with similarities to Norma Rae.
In Barbara Kopple's film I was horrified that the strike was over something we here take for granted in Australia - the simple right for the workforce at a place of employment to be represented by a labor union. The hypocrisy of the US government's persistent claim that the nation is a leader in democratic rights was never been made so apparent (except perhaps in Salt of the Earth)
What's so great about Harlan County USA?
* The clarity of the portrayal of the grotesque power of monopoly capital
* The way Koppel and crew are right in there, every day, every night - totally committed to the struggle, not just observers They're not your back to the city at 5pm chroniclers - they're in there for the long haul.
* The way that representatives of Duke Power so eloquently state their sheer nastiness and lack of basic humanity
* The evocative portrayal of the tensions amongst the strikers and the ebbs and flows of enthusiasm, optimism, despair, pessimism, solidarity, and opportunism.
* The way it captures the dimension of violence in US labor relations - in the land of the gun.
* The emergence of stong women and the pivotal role they played.
* The haunting music of Hazel Dickens.
* The moving songs of black-lung affected Nimrod Workman.
* The dramatic juxtaposition of the beauty of the woods and hollows and the grinding poverty and deplorable living conditions.
* The broader chronicling of the conditions in the "Other America".
* The trip to New York to put their case and a great conversation between a Kentucky miner and a police officer.
Above all this is a film that can inspire the powerless to take on the mighty - because working people do have tremendous bargaining power, if they stay resilient and united.
39 of 45 people found this review helpful.
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