On Strike and on Film: Mexican American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America

On Strike and on Film: Mexican American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America

On Strike and on Film: Mexican American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America

On Strike and on Film: Mexican American Families and Blacklisted Filmmakers in Cold War America

Synopsis

Baker explores the 1951 miners' strike in Hanover, New Mexico, in which the Mexican American miners were prohibited from picketing. When their wives picketed for them, leading to a victory for the miners in 1952, the miners' union was forced to consider gender equality in their struggle for justice. Baker also explores the collaboration between mining families and blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers that resulted in the controversial 1954 film Salt of the Earth. She shows how this worker-artist alliance gave the mining families a unique chance to clarify the meanings of the strike in their own lives and allowed the filmmakers to create a progressive alternative to Hollywood productions.

Excerpt

Early on the morning of October 17, 1950, zinc miners finished the graveyard shift at the Empire Zinc Company in the village of Hanover, New Mexico. They climbed out of the mine shaft and into the sunlight illuminating the mountains in this southwestern corner of the state. Other workers gathered outside the company’s property—not to begin the day shift, however, but to begin a strike. Contract negotiations between their union, Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill), and Empire Zinc had finally broken down around midnight, with the company rejecting union demands for collar-to-collar pay, paid holidays, wages matching the district’s standards, and a reduction in the number of job classifications. This last demand was aimed at combating the dual-wage system in which Mexican American workers routinely earned less than Anglo workers, for a large number of classifications made it easier for employers to keep Mexican American miners in low-paying jobs. Striking to press their claims, 140 men picketed two entrances to the Empire Zinc property. Their picket lines completely shut down the mine.

A year later, the picket lines were still in place, still blocking the mine entrances, and Empire Zinc was barely operating. But if the picket lines continued to perform the same function, they had nonetheless been completely transformed: the marching picketers were all women and children, not the men who walked out on that October morning in 1950. This dramatic change had taken place in June 1951. the strike began as a typical conflict between miners and their employer over work conditions and wages, but like many labor conflicts, especially in single-industry . . .

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