The Labor Movement and Film, Part 1: “For the Union Makes Us Strong”

There are many films that allow you to actually see and hear events from history at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. For the Labor History Archives exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America,” the labor history archives team wanted you to have the ability to experience these historical events. We are showcasing eight video clips that visitors can enjoy within the gallery space and are easily accessible on an iPad. The films that we chose touch on a variety of topics that correlate to the displays. Many of the films that we are showcasing probably have not been seen since they originally aired. Since we were able to digitize these original copies, they will be preserved and easily accessible to everyone online.

Film Ipad

Erin Berry looking through all eight clips that are easy viewable on an iPad in the Hornbake Library gallery.

As we were reviewing the labor films we were surprised by so many familiar faces! Former AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Thomas R. Donahue appears in the 1985 film, Leading the Way: Black Trade Unions in South Africa. This film tells the story of black labor unions in South Africa, with the United States labor movement’s support, fighting for equal and human rights during the time of apartheid. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was a leading force in persuading the American government to boycott the imports of South Africa’s goods in protest of the system of institutionalized segregation. The clip shows the AFL-CIO (represented by Donahue), members of Congress, and leaders of anti-apartheid organizations leading a strike in front of the South African embassy in Washington, DC to show their support for releasing imprisoned union leaders in South Africa. This video clip correlates to the exhibit display “Labor Without Borders: From Diplomacy to International Solidarity.”

“We assemble to condemn the repressive government that has imprisoned our sisters and brothers in South Africa. For 30 years, we in the AFL-CIO have decried and condemned the South African system of apartheid, which breeds those violations of human rights.” – Thomas R. Donahue


Come check out these anti-apartheid buttons on display in “Labor Without Borders: From Diplomacy to International Solidarity.”

Sometimes learning about history can feel distant to the viewer if they do not have firsthand experience with the subject. To put labor history in a perspective that is relatable to University of Maryland we included a film that follows our very own former librarian, Lynda Clendenning. In the film Pay Equity, Clendenning joined the labor movement after experiencing the support they gave her when she was wrongly fired by the University and had to fight to gain her job back. She decided to use this strength by leading a group of female clerical workers to fight to earn salaries equal to male workers in comparable jobs. As the viewer follows Clendenning’s story, there is also a discussion between Linda Chavez, Executive Director of the US Commission on Civil Rights and Winn Newman, a union attorney, on why there is gender discrimination in wages and if these problems can be resolved. Though this episode in the America Works series was aired in 1984, it is still relevant and relatable to this campus today. This video is associated with topics discussed in our “Women’s Liberation” exhibit display.

“She hasn’t had a raise since 1973. She will tell you at every possible opportunity.”

The labor history exhibit showcases how the labor movement is intertwined in so many areas of social justice, such as the civil rights movement. The “From Fair Employment to Civil Rights: Sharing the Dream” exhibit display demonstrates how leaders of the civil rights and labor movements worked hand-in-hand to win human and working rights for the black community. The film To Dream highlights the relationship Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with the labor movement. This powerful film reveals actual footage of Dr. King’s address to the AFL-CIO convention in 1963, his involvement in picket lines, and his last address to the sanitation strikers in Memphis, TN which is where he was assassinated. To see and hear Dr. King as he fought for workers’ rights is an important experience in order to fully understand this history, which only film is able to give us.

“We can get much more through an organized effort than we can get through an individual effort. Every Negro and every white person up at Scripto [Pen Company], [should] be supporting the labor union. It’s no accident Scripto is fighting not to conduct the wage due from the salaries of the individual. It’s no accident because they don’t want a labor union up there. Because they know they gotta treat you right.”- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a picket line to support a strike by the International Chemical Workers Union, Local 754, against discrimination at the Scripto Pen Company, Atlanta, 1964.

Just hearing about a historical event like Dr. King making a speech to the International Chemical Workers Union does not transcend how impactful that speech was. Watching the film footage showcases how that speech might have felt to those union members. This virtual feeling is also essential to understand the magnitude of the Solidarity Day march on September 18, 1981. The demonstration started due to a strike from the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) who walked off their job because of their dangerous working schedule and lack of health care benefits. Newly elected President Reagan reacted by firing the striking air controllers and brought in the military as strikebreakers. The labor movement responded with the Solidarity Day march, which was estimated to have had 500,000 unionists rallying in Washington, DC. Reading these numbers and seeing the massive amount of people in film footage, versus photographs, are very different experiences. The labor film, Solidarity Day gives the viewer a sense of what lengths these unionists would go to to fight for workers’ rights, and how it relates to what we are fighting for today.

“We will resist. We will not allow the hard won gains of minorities to be lost. We will not permit the Spanish speaking to be abandoned. We will not sanction the promises of yesterday to be destroyed. Yes, we will resist with total determination the attempt to take away 50 years of worker progress.”


Come see this photo in the labor exhibit and take a selfie with it! AFL-CIO Still Images, Photographic Prints Collection.

Having the opportunity to see and hear these important events is critical to understand the impact the labor movement and its’ leaders had in many areas of social justice history. Thanks to the digitization of these films, the history of these events will be preserved for many years to come.

If you would like to view all eight films clips you can come visit the labor exhibit in the Hornbake Library gallery, and you can watch in full through our digital collections, or on YouTube. Check out the next blog post where we will explore the other four labor history video clips!

If you would like more information about the Labor History Collections, you can visit our Labor History Research Guide or email

Erin Berry is a Graduate Assistant for the Labor History Collection at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation and expects to graduate in 2018.

2 thoughts on “The Labor Movement and Film, Part 1: “For the Union Makes Us Strong”

  1. Pingback: The Labor Movement and Posters: Promoting Human Rights, Part 1 | UMD Special Collections & University Archives

  2. Pingback: The Labor Movement and Posters: Promoting Human Rights, Part 2 | UMD Special Collections & University Archives

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