As more and more workers in the United States are organizing to create unions to represent their interests, and corporations are spending millions and millions of dollars to thwart their efforts, it is good to honor this International Workers Day, May Day, by celebrating the restoration and screening of the film, THE WOBBLIES. It was produced during the 1970s and premiered at the NY Film Festival in 1979, and has been recently restored to 4K digital format by the Museum of Modern Art, as well as being inducted into The National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2021, one of only 25 films added each year.
May 1st is celebrated in many countries around the world as a holiday to honor laborers. May 1st was chosen because it marked the day, May 1st, 1886, when a general strike began in the United States to campaign for an 8 hour work day. Four days later in the so-called Haymarket Affair in Chicago police arrived to disperse a packed public assembly in Haymarket Square in support of the general strike, when a person, never identified, threw a bomb. The police fired on the workers. In the ensuing melée seven police officers were killed, as well as at least four citizens. In addition, 60 police were injured as were at least 115 citizens. Hundreds of labor leaders and sympathizers were rounded-up and four were executed by hanging, after a trial that many historians consider a miscarriage of justice. On May 5, 1886 in Milwaukee, WI, the state militia fired on a crowd of strikers, killing seven, including a schoolboy and a man feeding his chickens in his own yard.
We interviewed filmmakers, Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird, about their film, THE WOBBLIES, about the period about 20 years after the deadly events during the General Strike of 1886, as a new effort to organize ALL the workers began. They state:
“When we started production on The Wobblies in 1977 our goal was to rescue and record an almost completely neglected chapter of American history as told by its elderly survivors. We never imagined then that the themes of labor exploitation, anti-immigrant legislation, and racial and gender discrimination would resonate as strongly today. We couldn’t be prouder to have the film included last year in the National Film Registry, and to have Kino Lorber present the new 4K MoMA restoration nationwide on International Workers Day.”
About Producer-Director Deborah Shaffer
Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Deborah Shaffer began making social issue documentaries as a member of the Newsreel Collective in the ‘70’s. She co-founded Pandora Films, one of the first women’s film companies, which produced several shorts. Her first feature documentary, The Wobblies, premiered at the prestigious New York Film Festival in 1979. During the ’80s Shaffer focused on human rights in Central America and Latin America, directing many films including Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements, which won the Academy Award® for Short Documentary in 1985, and Fire from the Mountain and Dance of Hope, which both played at the Sundance Film Festival. Shaffer directed one of the first post-September 11 films, From the Ashes: 10 Artists followed by From the Ashes: Epilogue, which premiered at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals. She is also the Executive Producer of the Academy Award®-nominated short Asylum, and has directed numerous acclaimed public television programs on women and the arts. She directed and produced To Be Heard, which won awards at numerous festivals and aired nationwide on PBS. Her most recent film, Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack premiered at DOC NYC and won the Audience Award at the Hamptons Documentary Film Festival. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Irene Diamond Lifetime Achievement Award by the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
About Producer-Director – Editor Stewart Bird
Stewart Bird is a Bronx-born writer and filmmaker. Murder at the Yeshiva is his first novel and he is presently writing his second NYPD homicide detective novel with Detective Mo Shuman. He wrote Solidarity Forever, an oral history of the I.W.W. (University of Minnesota Press) with Dan Georgakas and Deborah Shaffer. He also co-authored the play “The Wobblies: The U.S. vs. Wm. D. Haywood et. al.,” (with Peter Robilotta), which was performed at the Hudson Guild Theatre in New York and published by Smyrna Press. Bird wrote a one-hour story for PBS entitled “The Mighty Pawns” about a black inner-city chess team, which was shown nationally on Wonderworks and distributed nationally by Disney. As a writer/producer for Fox television’s Current Affair, he produced various segments: “Alan Berg,” “Elvis Presley,” “A Cycle of Justice,” and “The Night Natalie Died.” He worked as a writer/producer for CBS News’ 48 Hours and produced segments like “Another America,” “Underground,” “Stuck on Welfare,” and “Earth Wars.” He has produced numerous feature-length documentaries including “Finally Got the News,” about black auto workers in Detroit; “Retratos,” on the Puerto Rican community in New York; “Coming Home,” on Vietnam Veterans; “Building the American Dream: Levittown, NY” and The Wobblies (with Deborah Shaffer) focusing on the Industrial Workers of the World a turn-of-the-century labor union.
One can rent Wobblies via this link: https://kinonow.com/film/the-wobblies/624202eb7b0e1200011ce8c3