Dissenter FeaturedLatest NewsThe Dissenter

Kartemquin Films 50: ‘UE/Wells’

Editor’s Note

Kartemquin Films is a not-for-profit organization in Chicago, which has been producing innovative documentaries to inspire democracy and action for 50 years. To celebrate this milestone, the collaborative group is featuring a film they produced every week, from now until the end of 2016. Each film is available to watch for free until the next film in their catalog is posted every Friday.

From this point onward, I expect to highlight each film with posts aimed at calling attention to the important work Kartemquin has done and how the group has impacted the art of cinema over the past half century. I will publish posts about those films in the coming weeks. —Kevin Gosztola

The more you put into fighting the bosses, the more you get.

In this 15-minute film from Kartemquin, which was produced in the late 1970s, the United Electrical Workers Union engage in an organizing drive at the Wells Foundry in Chicago. African American, Hispanic, Arab, Polish, and Jewish workers form a union, even as the company seeks to divide the workers.

The film is primarily composed of interviews with workers, who describe what is ongoing in the organizing drive. It also shows the workers organizing in a park, as they prepare for a union vote.

When the workers achieve their goal of unionizing the workers, there is much celebration. The workers go to the UE Hall to mark the achievement.

One of the organizers, who helped the Wells Foundry workers, says in the film, “They had all the money, but you kept the people together and beat them.”

This is recognized as a beginning. Once the union is formed, workers still have to fight day in and day out to make gains in benefits and improvements in the workplace.

During one scene in the film, the filmmakers are confronted by men, who appear to be some kind of goons working for company management. They do not want to see the foundry form a union and one man asks about Kartemquin’s microphone and then states, “I hope you have ways of protecting that,” to intimidate them.

The filmmaking continues the tradition of “cinematic social inquiry” practiced by Kartemquin through earlier films. It promotes social change by showing it can be done. A multi-ethnic work force can come together and beat the bosses, even when there are relentless efforts to pit groups against each other.

Watch “UE/Wells” for free at Kartemquin Films’ website. [Available through March 17.]

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."