Movie Mirrors Index

Salt of the Earth

(1954 b 94')

En: 6 Ed: 8

This film was produced by Paul Jarrico, directed by Herbert Biberman, and written by Michael Wilson with music by Sol Kaplan, all of whom were blacklisted. A union of mostly Mexican-American mine workers goes on strike and gets help from the women.

         In New Mexico a town is built by the zinc mine. On her 35th birthday Esperanzo Quintero (Rosaura Revueltas) sees that her son has been fighting with the Anglo kids. At the mine Ramon Quintero (Juan Chacon) and other miners complain about fuses that cause injuries, but the boss ignores them.

         At home Esperanza tells her husband Ramon that they may lose their radio because they are late on payments. She suggests the union ask for better plumbing. He says they had five accidents this week. She complains the wives are neglected. He says she only thinks of herself, and she cries.

         While drinking beer Ramon talks with other men about the union and conditions. Ramon says he does not want to wait to strike. People sing outside the Quinteros’ house. Esperanza is in bed and tells her dauughter they can light the candles. The people come in with beer and wish Esperanza a happy birthday. She weeps for joy and embraces Ramon.

         During the week pregnant Esperanza remembers her party. While hanging out her wash, some ladies come and say they should have sanitary bathrooms. They suggest picketing at the mine, but Esperanza says no because of Ramon. They hear an ambulance siren and run to the mine. A worker accuses the foreman of leaving the man alone. The boss tells them to get back to work. Their leader refuses to order them, and the workers vote to stop the machines and walk out. That night the union votes to strike 93-5. Esperanza and three other women come in near the end. Consuelo Ruiz (Angela Sanchez) speaks for the ladies and asks for equality in sanitation. They want to have a ladies auxiliary to help. The meeting is adjourned, and the women complain to their husbands.

         The workers walk in a circle outside the mine with signs asking for equality. Strike-breakers arrive, but they see the picket line and leave. The widow Mrs. Salazar starts walking with the men. Other ladies bring coffee. The superintendent arrives, and the sheriff (Will Geer) tells him the new workers left. The picketers are blocking the car with Alexander (David Sarvis) and Hartwell (Mervin Williams). Ramon comes over, and Alexander tells him he is in line to be foreman. The car drives off. Kids tell Ramon about a man, and they run after him. He and another man corner him, but two deputies arrest Ramon. In the car Vance hits Ramon. Esperanza is about to have her baby.

         After Ramon gets out of jail, they christen the baby Juan. Men play poker, and the women want to dance. Frank Barnes (Clinton Jencks) talks with Ramon, and his wife Ruth Barnes (Virginia Jencks) comes in with coffee. Couples begin dancing. Ramon admires his son and talks with Esperanza, saying they must win the strike. Deputies come in to repossess the radio. Ramon says no, but Esperanza lets them take it so he won’t be arrested.

         The strike goes on into the sixth month, and it is cold. The strike fund is gone, and some families leave. Some strikers find jobs in other mines and share their salaries. They get support from other unions. The sheriff and his deputies bring a court order to stop the picketing. At the union meeting Frank presents the choice of ending the strike or going to jail. Ramon suggests they fight on. A woman read the injunction and says they can take over the picket line. The motion is debated. Ramon argues against it. Esperanza asks the men to let the women vote too. A leader suggests they adjourn the union meeting and be a community meeting. The women vote for the motion and most men against; the vote is 103-85.

         The women come from all around and picket in a circle. The men sit and watch. Esperanza was forbidden by her husband. The sheriff drives a car to make the women scatter, but they do not and surround the car. The sheriff uses tear gas. Esperanza uses her shoe to knock a gun from a struggling deputy. The officers get in the car and leave. The women sing, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

         At home Esperanza says she is going back tomorrow. Ramon says he won’t stay home with the kids, and she says she will take them with her. The officers try to make the women leave with a car and tear gas, but the circle remains. Alexander tells the sheriff to arrest the ringleaders. He tells them they can go home or to jail. Barton (David Wolfe) has the scab point out the leaders, who are arrested. Ruth Barnes and Esperanza are among them.

         In jail many women and children chant for beds and food, but the deputy says they have none. The women demand formula for the baby. Ramon listens to the bosses. The sheriff says he can’t feed them. Alexander asks Hartwell what he wants. A deputy sees Ramon and tells the sheriff they want a formula. The sheriff says he gave them milk and blames the women. He says they only need to sign a pledge not to go back to the picket line. The sheriff releases the baby to Ramon. Esperanza leads the chanting for food.

         At home Ramon takes care of his children. While hanging clothes he says hot water should be a union demand. His neighbor says they should have “sex equality.” Ramon makes his older son work at home. Esperanza comes in, and four women come in to plan.

         Ramon drinks at a bar with men. They see a news article about the president of the company. Ramon goes home late and complains that Esperanza neglects her kids. He says he is going to leave, but he will not give up. She says they can win, and she wants to rise up. He raises his hand to her, and she tells him not to ever do that again.

         The next day Esperanza tells Consuelo that she spoke out of hurt. Ramon thinks about what Esperanza said as he walks. He tells his brothers to go back. A woman shouts, “Eviction!” The deputies remove things from a house. Boys throw rocks, and Ramon chases them away. The men return, and the women gather. Ramon tells Esperanza that they can fight now. The sheriff says the women are going back in. The sheriff and his deputies leave. Hartwell tells the sheriff they will have to settle. Ramon thanks the sisters and brothers.

         This story of a union strike is the only American movie ever to be blacklisted. Patriarchal attitudes by men are overcome by the activism of the women who show that they can be equal partners in the struggle for equal rights and fair conditions in employment. The solidarity by both sexes enable the workers using nonviolent methods to overcome the exploitative company bosses.

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

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