When women, labor, and film connect you get cinematic gems March 7, 2023 — Time marches on. March Madness. The March on Washington. The word march crops up often in our lives, but during the month of March, we commemorate the valuable contributions women have made throughout history. 

Women have played a pivotal role throughout the labor movement, so this month, why not break out your favorite snacks and enjoy a history lesson through one of the many films telling their stories? 

Here are a few to choose from: 

Breaking the News
The PEF Statewide Women’s Commitee chose this story of a group of women and LGBTQ+ journalists who launch a digital news start-up called The 19th* — named after the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, but with an asterisk to acknowledge Black women and women of color who were omitted — to screen at the March meeting of the PEF Executive Board. The 19th sought to buck a broken news media system.  

A story of America in flux, and the voices often left out of the narrative, Breaking the News shows change doesn’t come easy – something that unions and the labor movement know well! 

You can watch the movie on PBS. 

Norma Rae
No list of labor history movies depicting women would be complete without Norma Rae, with its iconic moment of Sally Field grabbing a piece of cardboard and scrawling UNION on it in capital letters and then climbing on a table at a cotton mill as police rush in to arrest her. 

The movie tells the story of Crystal Lee Sutton, a North Carolina cotton mill worker turned labor activist, who held union meetings in her house, talked union with mill workers before and after work and during breaks, and whose zeal for unionizing is impressive. 

To prepare for their roles in the movie, Field and Beau Bridges, who played Norma Rae’s former coworker and new husband Sonny Webster, did stints working in a factory. 

Bread and Roses
Based on the Justice for Janitors campaign launched by SEIU, this film portrays the struggles of poorly paid janitorial workers in Los Angeles as they fight for better working conditions and the right to unionize. 

While the characters are fictional, the story it tells is true. It spotlights the immigrant community’s abuse by employers who threatened deportation for those who tried to organize or defend their rights in the workplace. 

Made in Dagenham
In this British comedy dramatization about the women sewing machinists strike at the Ford Dagenham plant in 1968, gender roles and equal pay take center stage. The strike helped pave the way for the landmark Equal Pay Act of1970. 

Main character Rita O’Grady is one of only 187 women in a workforce of 55,000 men when she rallies female co-workers to fight for equal pay amidst the “man’s world” mentality at the plant.  

Actress Sally Hawkins prepared for her role by meeting with three of the original Dagenham seamstresses. Her grandmother was also a seamstress at another plant.  

Union Maids
This documentary on the history of women’s organizing in the 1930s is harder to track down, but it paints a vivid picture of the first to form industrial unions as seen through the eyes of rank-and-file women.  

The film is a unique oral history that uses footage from the National Archives to bring viewers into the story. 

You can watch Union Maids with a library card through Kanopy.