This film is part of Free

Labor & Defense U.S.A

In 1941 America’s working men and women were the ‘indispensables’ of the industrial offensive to arm the USA and provide aid for embattled Britain. This film tells their story.

1941 19 mins

Overview

This March of Time film traces the complex and sometimes fraught history of the American trade union movement and, using archive and contemporary footage, documents the struggles of its workers and leaders. In 1941 it was vital that labour and management co-operated to ensure maximum productivity to boost the biggest armament programme in US history, and the film is even-handed in its treatment of the unions and the bosses, emphasising the message that ‘teamwork is the big thing’.

From professional strike-breaker Pearl Louis Bergoff - seen handing out guns to his gang of ‘plug uglies’- to the founder of the US Trade Union movement Samuel Gompers; the larger than life personalities of the American labour movement dominate the screen in this issue. The conflict between the Congress of Industrial Organizations, led by Welshman John Llewellyn Lewis and the American Federation of Labour led by William Green is captured the passionate speeches of both men. Green denounces the CIO for its pro-Soviet tendencies and Lewis (who was renowned for his elaborate rhetoric) counters such ‘vile fulminations’ with the memorable phrase, ‘‘they lie in their beard and they lie in their bowels’.