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Monday, April 24, 2006

An Historic Event: Salt of the Earth at Guild Cinema

PosterThe seldom seen and controversial independent film, Salt of the Earth, will be screened at Albuquerque's Guild Cinema on May 1-4, accompanied by panel discussions and more. If you've never seen this movie, you've missed an important, powerful film. If you have, this is a good chance to see it again in the company of other good people.

Filmed in New Mexico in 1953-54, during the height of Senator McCarthy's witch hunt, Salt of the Earth is an earthy and factual look at union action in the face of a mining company's brutal treatment of its Hispanic workers. Rare for its time, the movie takes a pro-feminist tack in highlighting the courage of women on the picket lines. It's based on actual events at a 1951 miners' strike against Empire Zinc that took place in Bayard, near Silver City, NM. Many strike participants acted in various roles in the film.

Much has been written about this compelling and rare film that was, in essence, banned during the era in which it was produced. Here are some resources that discuss its controversial elements, the tenor of the times during the 1950s when it was made, and much more:

  • A detailed and scholarly analysis of the film appeared a few years ago in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, including many photos and historical nuggets.
  • Wikipedia provides all kinds of background info on many aspects of the movie.

  Photo credit WCFTR.

Here's more event info from the Central New Mexico Labor Council:

May 1 --­ 4: An Historic Event
By: Jon Thomas-Weger, President, Central New Mexico Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Since its release in 1953, the movie Salt of the Earth was only shown at a few  movie theaters before, due to political pressure, it was essentially banned. Rarely to be seen again, except in 16 millimeter showings at small gatherings in union halls and on college campuses.

Filmed in New Mexico in 1952 and 1953, written by blacklisted film writers, directed by a blacklisted director, crewed by a blacklisted crew, and starring the blacklisted actor Will Geer, Salt of the Earth had little choice but to turn to the communities of Silver City and environs in order to make this movie a success. While never successful financially, Salt of the Earth has been successful in inspiring generations of unionists, and community activists to become involved to achieve a better future.

That is what the Salt of the Earth strikers and their families did. They built a strong union that protected their rights, protected their heritage and eventually brought about an end to official discrimination against the Mexican-American/Chicano community in Bayard, Silver City, Tyrone and other small towns in Southwest New Mexico, and Arizona as well.

Because of Local 890's determination and their parent union's opposition to the Cold War, many strikers, especially the leadership, were tarred with the communist brush. If these folks were communists, then the only thing to say is we wish there were more people like them. They helped change and improve the legal and political status, as well as the standard of living for thousands of miners in New Mexico and Arizona.

Beginning May 1, the Central New Mexico Labor Council will be sponsoring our First Annual Labor Film Festival. And, of course, the featured film will be New Mexico¹s own Salt of the Earth. To our knowledge, this is the first time that Salt of the Earth has ever been shown in a commercial movie theater in New Mexico. For that matter, it has rarely been shown in a commercial theater anywhere in the country.

So far many local unions have purchased bulk tickets. There will be a reception sponsored by IATSE 480, on the first night. Following every showing there will be a panel discussion on the significance of the Salt of the Earth strike and the making of the movie.

This is not only an historic event, but it will also be educational and informative and a time for unionists and their families to come out and learn more about the Trade Union Movement in New Mexico.

Rapping: The Council has asked local rapper Jeremy Giannini to write and perform a rap song about Salt of the Earth. He will be performing every evening. There will be something for everybody. Bring your family!

Panels: Panels following the movie have yet to be finalized. But the panels will feature family members of strike leaders, activists in Mine, Mill and Smelter Local 890, lawyers who have represented workers against Phelps Dodge; people who participated in the strike and the movie,  and others. The event will end by 9:30 PM every night.

Please support this effort as much as possible. Bulk tickets of ten or more are available for $3 each (call Jon Thomas-Weger at 505-306-4870 or Greg Chávez at 505-301-4519). Tickets will be $6 at the door. This can be more than an historic event. It is time that we all come together. Remember our history. And, work for a better future. As we all know, unionism is a key part of a better future for everybody.

April 24, 2006 at 03:12 PM in Film | Permalink


Wow, I so wish I could make it up there for the screening. SOTE played such a role in our local history, and is, unfortunately, still controversial today, that I would relish an opportunity to see it in the context described above. Kudos to the Central New Mexico Labor Council!

Posted by:

Avelino: Perhaps there's a way to get a group down there to host a screening. The Labor Council might know how folks can get a copy of the film to use. It would be a positive thing to have this film shown statewide, wouldn't it?

Posted by: barb | Apr 25, 2006 8:57:48 AM

Went to the film Last Night it was great This was a clear nice DVD version . I wish I could be there tonight to see the print version at 5 pm We should try to get it shown at other places around NM and Arz.... I know the guy own the theatre at Winslow would probably show it .

Posted by: Pipewrench | May 4, 2006 5:25:26 AM

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