Adventures in Feministory: Norma Rae

Today is Labor Day, and while the most significant impact this has for many of us is on our wardrobes (see you next year, white pants) the holiday actually serves as a celebration of the contributions of American workers.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that women have had a significant impact on the history of American labor politics. From the Atlanta Washerwomen Strike in 1881 to Jane Addams’ Hull House, women have always kicked ass and taken names in the name of workers’ rights. However, this is a pop culture blog and I am a self-proclaimed pop culture addict, so I say we celebrate Labor Day 2010 with an awesome pop cultural representation of women and labor politics: Norma Rae.

Norma Rae is based on the true story of an unlikely labor organizer, Crystal Lee Sutton. Sutton attempted to unionize the textile factory where she worked, and was fired as a result. When the bosses came to take her away, she took one final stand. Said Sutton, “I took a piece of cardboard and wrote the word UNION on it in big letters, got up on my work table, and slowly turned it around. The workers started cutting their machines off and giving me the victory sign. All of a sudden the plant was very quiet…” (Norma Rae fans will recognize that scene from the film—isn’t it awesome that it really happened?)

I don’t want to give away the whole plot of Norma Rae here and spoil your post-BBQ plans to watch it tonight, but I do want to recommend it to everyone as a rare film that makes labor organizing seem kinda sexy and definitely awesome. Labor organizers work long, hard hours with little recognition, and it’s great to see them play the heroes every once in a while (it doesn’t hurt that there are tons of cute people in the movie, either).

It might seem a little cheesy to celebrate a movie on Labor Day when there are so many amazing women fighting for workers’ rights all over the world, but a major motion picture like Norma Rae has the power to influence millions of viewers to care about labor politics. The real Crystal Lee Sutton died last year, but her legacy lives on in Norma Rae. Check it out, and have a Happy Labor Day!

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

I grew up in a pro-union

I grew up in a pro-union household (Dad was a member of the IBEW, Mom the CWA) and remember hearing Dad referring to Mom as "the Norma Rae of GTE" (now Verizon) long before I ever saw the film. Once old enough, they made sure I knew the who/what/when/where/why/how and viewed the flick myself. To this day my heartbeat picks up, as a rush excitement flows through my body just thinking about the aforementioned scene. Fair & equitable wages, safe working conditions, overtime, paid sick/pregnancy leave - every working individual in the US deserves these rights and more. Thanks for the reminder of what today is <strong>really</strong> about.

I know there isn't a move on

I know there isn't a move on Dolores Huerta (Hmmmmm) but she deserves some acknowledgment on Labor day as well.

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