Where would America be without our workers? Well, we’d be without bridges, for one. And roads, buildings, railways...you get the point. This country was built by everyday people, who labor hard to build our infrastructures, mine our fuel, and tend to the sick. This year has brought into focus just how crucial our essential workers are, but they’ve been there all along. But it’s not just America. Countries around the world are built and run by hardworking laborers. Labor Day should be a day to honor all workers everywhere, past and present, who have made and continue to make invaluable contributions to society. We’ve rounded up seven titles that highlight a wide range of workers’ perspectives, from coal miners in West Virginia to plantation workers in Nicaragua. What better way to celebrate Labor Day than to celebrate the workers of the world?
Most would say they work to live, but Raquel lives to work. As the longtime maid for a wealthy Chilean family, she’s practically the head of the household, a position she cherishes. So when a new maid is hired to provide her unsolicited assistance, she’s going to fight tooth and nail to keep her station, even if it means locking her replacement out of the house. The dramedy turns the conventional relationship between class and power on its head and proves that family hierarchy does not require blood relation.
Never has it been so clear how absolutely crucial healthcare workers are to society. In this documentary, we examine the work of one type of healthcare professional in particular: maternity nurses. And not just any maternity nurses, but the tireless maternity nurses at what is reportedly the busiest maternity ward on the planet: Fabella Hospital in Manila, where an average of 60 babies are born every day. That is a lot of crying babies. The documentary will completely immerse you in its crowded, hectic world, where new mothers get their babies mixed up and strangers quickly become friends.
When an 18-year-old boy is sent to collect the belongings of an injured factory worker named Cristiano, he comes across his memoir and is transported into the man’s life. Part intimate portrait, part love story, and part road movie in the vein of Kerouac, this Brazilian drama touches on all the elements that comprise a full life: love, struggle, the desire to create change. Though Cristiano’s always lived in poverty, the viewer comes away with the sense that his life has been rich in its own way.
What happens when your life’s work disappears? West Virginia was once a booming coal town, where work for miners was plentiful, but the steady decline of the coal industry has left companies bankrupt and workers without jobs. This four-part docuseries follows miners, union members, environmentalists, and students who must adapt to a new life without coal. It’s a sobering look at how a collapsing industry impacts people and communities—some former miners were left with nothing but health problems—but also a hopeful nod to the future—others are learning new skills like coding to bounce back.
Neighboring West Virginia to the north is Pennsylvania, another state that once boasted a booming industry that’s now a fading memory. Also a somber but hopeful documentary, “Braddock, PA,” looks at what’s become of the former beating heart of Western Pennsylvania’s steel industry and what certain individuals are doing to revive their beloved hometown. A filmmaker tells the story of Braddock through decades of his own documentation. An urban farmer tries to bring new life to the town’s neglected soils. And a politician hopes to become southwestern Pennsylvania's first Black female state representative. These folks prove that, if you love something, you don’t give up on it.
Here’s a story that’s at once infuriating, inspiring, and absolutely bananas. The documentary follows a landmark legal case between Dole Food Company and banana plantation workers in Nicaragua that alleged the company used a banned pesticide that left generations of workers sterile, and even killed some. As the film peels away (had to) at the case, it becomes evident that Dole knew about the harmful effects of the chemical pesticide but did nothing about it. It’s a harrowing underdog tale that catapulted these plantation workers into the US Supreme Court to take on one of the most recognizable brands in Big Food—talk about a David vs. Goliath situation. And if the plaintiffs slay the giant, thousands more workers could also successfully sue Dole. You’ll be watching with your fingers crossed.
What really happened at Marikana? In 2012, miners at one of South Africa’s biggest plutonium plants went on a wildcat strike for better wages, and were massacred for it. The film attempts to piece together the truth through the perspectives of three miners, combined with police and archival footage, over the course of seven days. Through the horrific massacre at Marikana, a larger picture is revealed, one shaped by decades of enduring poverty, a wobbly nascent democracy, and corruption at the top. Witness the story that forever changed South Africa.