The story of the Sterling Radiator strike is a case study of the breakdown in American labor relations in the United States in the 1980s. Just a few months after the Reagan administration fired striking air traffic controllers and replaced them with new workers in 1981, companies like Sterling Radiator followed suit. Since the early 1980s, more companies have used strikebreakers, “take backs”—reversing gains made in wages and working conditions—and replacement workers to defeat unions.
THEY CAN’T BREAK OUR UNION chronicles the experiences of 68 members of United Auto Workers Local 430 on strike at Sterling Radiator, an industrial radiator plant in Westfield, Massachusetts. When the employees went out on strike, they thought it would be a typical contract dispute. However, it soon became apparent that the company was out to break their union by permanently hiring replacement workers.
Through interviews with the strikers, their families, and union officials, the video examines the conditions which led to the walkout, the consequences of the long strike on family life, and the personal resolve and commitment of those involved in the strike. The documentary culminates with a dramatic act of civil disobedience, in which 91 union members and community supporters are arrested for blockading a bus delivering strikebreakers to the plant.
As the longest strike in Massachusetts history, the events at Sterling Radiator came to be a national symbol for unions fighting for their continued survival. THEY CAN’T BREAK OUR UNION is an essential resource for understanding the challenges facing the contemporary labor movement.
"This detailed and compelling video is a useful tool to help students understand the genesis of a strike, the human impact of a company’s campaign to break a union, and—most importantly—the power of solidarity."
"THEY CAN’T BREAK OUR UNION is the informative and inspirational narrative of a small UAW local’s stand against an all-out union-busting effort. I’ve shown it many times, and never have been disappointed by students’ responses to it. Focusing on one dramatic story, it opens our eyes not only to the realities of economic power in the United States, but also to often neglected traditions of grassroots resistance and working-class solidarity. Any class on American society or politics would benefit from the showing of it."
"This penetrating documentary of a strike at a western Massachusetts industrial radiator plant shows how management efforts to dismantle a 30-year relationship with a union engenders anger, feelings of betrayal, group consciousness, and worker solidarity among rank-and-file working people."
RECOMMENDED SUBJECT AREAS
Labor Studies • Labor Law • American Studies • Political Science • Sociology • American History • Economics • Communications • Philosophy • Politics & Government • Contemporary Social Movements • Social Change • Media and Contemporary Culture • Documentary Film Studies
THEY CAN’T BREAK OUR UNION
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