“Union Time” Film

Compa appears in film about fight for workers’ rights
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Filmmaker Matthew Barr, who chronicles the successful 16-year struggle for a union at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., will speak this afternoon and show his documentary at the ILR School.

Barr, media studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will screen “Union Time: Fighting for Workers’ Rights” at 4:30 p.m. in 105 Ives Hall.

ILR Senior Lecturer Lance Compa appears in the film, providing a legal analysis of the campaign. Barr will introduce the 86-minute film and discuss it afterward.

Barr filmed from 2007 to 2015. Worker Wanda Blue exemplifies the courage of the employees, who had struggled with dangerous conditions, low pay and intimidation since the plant’s opening in 1992.

“I just had to get the fear out,” she says in the film. “Once I got the fear out of me, I was good to go. There wasn’t no stopping me.”

Workers enlisted the help of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, but faced union busting including two botched elections and efforts to divide workers by race. They brought their case before the National Labor Relations Board and waited through years of legal battles.

In 2008, the workers voted to form a union. Now the 5,000 employees have better wages and working conditions.

Actor and activist Danny Glover narrates the film, released last year. The documentary includes non-employees who helped in the struggle, such as NAACP President The Rev. William J. Barber II, who also co-chairs the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

The Smithfield struggle demonstrates the convergence of labor rights and civil rights, and thus carries on the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., according to unheardvoicesproject.org, The documentary shows the role of unions in bringing about a just society, according to the website.

Barr is president of the Unheard Voices Project. His filmmaking focuses on the impact of globalization and social change on working people and the communities in which they live.