Labor and Film (LS214)

Labor and Film

Labor and Film examines the history of unions and workers in the United States through the use of film. Students will explore the various social issues and problems raised by each film and examine how these issues are shaped by important social factors including social class, race/ethnicity and gender. We will pay particular attention to whether workers and their unions are depicted as passive victims of larger social forces or whether they are portrayed as participants in their own destinies. We will also explore how the films depict the relationship between the labor movement and other movements for social change.


  • The historical context of each film

  • How movies shape society's perception of workers and unions

  • When, why and how filmakers changed history to make a "better" story

  • How the perspective of the filmakers shapes the presentation of the narrative

Each week we will watch a film, analyze it and its historical context, and discuss our reactions.  The short weekly reading will be available as pdf files for download.  A list of DVDs and a link to where they can be purchased will be included in the syllabus.

You and your organization will have a small library of DVDs that can provide labor history education to community organizations sympathetic to labor and as an internal organizing tool.


Alex Blair

Alex Blair earned a PhD in U.S. history from the University at Buffalo in 1993.  He has taught U.S. history at Buffalo State College since 2007, specializing in labor history, immigration, and America in the Twentieth Century.  He also works as an historian consultant with a number of unions including the Teamsters, the CWA, the UAW, and New York State united Teachers.  Prior to joining the faculty at Buffalo State, Blair worked at Cornell University ILR in the Buffalo Extension Division from 1987 to 2002.  He also worked as co-host and executive producer of the weekly syndicated radio show "Prospering in America."  Most recently he has published a book on the Teamsters and the civil rights movement and an article on Labor and the political left in Buffalo, New York.



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