A couple of weeks ago, I referenced Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 film The Seafarers, a promotional film he did for the Seafarers International Union. I couldn’t find an easily accessible copy at the time but have since alleviated that problem. Here it is, although not entirely safe for work given that seamen love pictures of topless women and evidently so does Kubrick.
Now, this is not the greatest film ever, nor does it really showcase Kubrick’s future talents, although the long, languorous shot of the food in the cafeteria is pretty great. Really, it’s more interesting as a window inside the mid-20th century labor movement. If you are looking for your leftist ideal of a labor movement, replete with socialism, cross-movement solidarity, etc., you never were going to find it in the SIU. It was formed as an AFL counter to Harry Bridges’ International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). What this union is about, as it states repeatedly, is security for workers. For most workers, this is the most important thing a union can offer and it, not radical social change, was at the core of labor’s appeal. This film was intended for use in convincing new members to sign up and it’s pretty effective in that, focusing on the concrete benefits for workers and their families and the internal democracy of the union.
Narrated by Don Hollenbeck of CBS News (imagine the reaction if Brian Williams or Wolf Blitzer narrated a union promotional film today!), this is just a really useful document for understanding American unionism at the peak of its power.