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Film Viewing: American Dream

After making tournedos strides before World War II, the American labor movement's power began to wane. This became most evident in the 1980s'. The busting of the air traffic controllers' union by President Ronald Reagan,the destruction of Flint, Michigan by General Motors and Hormel's abandonment of its hourly workers underscore this downward trend in labor's history.

American Dream is absolutely stunning. It centers around union meat packing workers at a Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota in the mid-80's. The trouble started when Hormel cut worker pay from $10.69 an hour to $8.25 an hour. The problem? Hormel had just posted a net profit of $30 million. As one worker at a union meeting put it, "If we have to take a cut of $2.45 an hour when the company just made $30 million, I hate to think of what's gonna happen when they actually post a loss." With no help from their parent union, International Food and Commercial Workers Union, the local union (P-9) goes on strike alone trying to bring Hormel to its knees. Director Barbara Kopple, who also made the great "Harlan County, USA", does an outstanding job of capturing every important moment. She has the camera there at every union meeting, press release, Hormel press release, etc. She also shows the very personal aspects of a strike going into people's homes and showing their innermost feelings about what's going on. In the end, the strike is long, drawn out, and things appear bleak. The constant Minnesota cold, snow and ice are always in the background as well. If one doesn't have a greater appreciation for unions and what they have to sometimes endure after watching this film, he/she probably didn't pay very good attention.

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  1. What expectations did the people have from Hormel?

  2. Despite the working conditions, why did they want to keep their jobs at Hormel?

  3. What power did Hormel pace?

  4. describe how the workers organized themselves?

  5. Do you think it was wise for Local P9 to break away from the national union? Explain.

  6. Did the workers have power?

  7. What is the 'fluidness' of capital?

  8. What do you think of the replacement workers and the union members who broke the picket line?

  9. Were there any winners in this battle?

  10. Describe what you learned from this movie about unions, employers and contracts.

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From the Internet Movie Data Base (

Hormel's corporate history (

From Hard Pressed in the Heartland (

More information about the P9 labor struggle (

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Is such unemployment necessary to promote corporate growth?

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