Chronicles the six-month strike at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, in 1985-86. The local union, P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers, overwhelmingly rejects a contract offer with a $2/hour ...
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Chronicles the six-month strike at Hormel in Austin, Minnesota, in 1985-86. The local union, P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers, overwhelmingly rejects a contract offer with a $2/hour wage cut. They 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?Written by
Barbara Kopple's bleak follow up to "Harlan County, USA"
Remaining in obscurity, this is another Union strike documentary from director Barbara Kopple, the brilliant filmmaker who brought us the landmark masterpiece documentary "Harlan County, USA", this time chronicling a strike of meat-packers in Austin, Minnesota -- around the time where Reagan put the clamp down on Unions, with his decision to fire the striking air-traffic controllers. Is it as great as "Harlan County, USA"? No. Is it worth seeing? Most definitely, especially for those who were fans of the previously mentioned film, for while it is not on the same level, American Dream is a very fine film in its own right, bringing some more interesting things to the table.
It starts a little slow, and I am not sure how relevant the film remains today, but it slowly becomes more and more absorbing. If Kopple's previous film, 14 years earlier, was a profound documentation of the power of the working class and the success of the Unions and people working together -- then "American Dream" is a documentary about the FAILURE of the Unions. This is a rather bleak film, augmented by the shots of the snow-covered, frozen land of Minnesota winter, giving the film at times a very cold mood. I would say that this film, although obviously taking sides with the strikers, is fairly even-handed. More importantly, however, it shows the major divisions in the Unions in how to achieve their goals and how to avoid the worst outcome, which is everyone losing their jobs and in essence being crushed by the companies.
As in "Harlan County, USA", the film is at its best when dealing with individual dramas and human moments between the people. While Kopple does offer some occasional narration and an added musical score, her presence is often unseen, allowing the people to tell the story, with the drama ultimately being created by the film's editing. We essentially see how the people of the Union, from the top down, are basically torn apart as their cause becomes more and more hopeless. How people of the community have to pick between crossing the picket line and reviving their job, or keeping their promises and integrity to the Union and to the community. We see people in heated arguments, we see people in brawls, best friends against best friends, brothers against brothers. There are some fantastic moments of drama. Like in "Harlan County, USA" where we feel the overwhelming feeling of a people united, standing up against the powers that be, here we see it all crumbling and falling down. For this alone it, it makes "American Dream" very much so worth seeing, as it is works as a very interesting continuation of Kopple's previous film, only 14 years later, and this time the vision of the American worker and the community it creates is only ever more bleak.
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