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Labour History Moments – Remembering Salt

May 7, 2015

A Podcast Series with the Steel Workers

4pt4x3pt86 Salt Poster for Create SpaceSixty years ago in December 1954, a movie called Salt of the Earth found its way into Canada, thanks to the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (now Steel).

The film was blacklisted across the United States as the Cold War unleashed a widespread paranoia that became known as McCarthyism. But fear of the red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy, a.k.a. Tailgunner Joe, didn’t stop Mine-Mill Local 480 in Trail, B.C.

The two Trail theatres succumbed to the paranoia and refused to let the smelter workers’ union show Salt. But they defied the red-baiters and the black listers by showing the banned film in the Kootenays at nearby Castlegar.

On December 15 and 16, 1954, they rented the Castle Theatre for five showings of the film about a strike by mostly Mexican-American zinc mine and smelter workers in New Mexico.

About 900 people attended the showings at 70 cents each. Children got in for half price. What they saw was a depiction of the victorious 15-month-long strike that shows women taking over the picket lines when an injunction sidelined the men.

When Salt was reshown at the same theatre 60 years later in November 2014, it was cheered. Two teenage women who, like many, had never heard of the film, said they liked the show of strength that the women brought to the strike and the movie. Others were impressed at how the community rallied to stop an eviction from company housing.

The film is as much a feminist statement as it is a slice of labor history. But it’s also about the power of collective resistance in the face of what seem to be overwhelming odds.

One viewer from the 1950s, a local smelter worker named E.B. Nobes, wrote a poem after seeing the film. As he put it,

“For there you see reality

And what it’s like to fight

For things held dear both far and near

Where workers know what’s right.”

It was a view shared by the audience at the 60th anniversary showing of the film. Some were even inspired to urge others to join the picket line of striking city workers a few blocks away.

Steel podcast posterToday, Salt of the Earth isn’t seen very much. It’s shown at the odd conference or film festival or in university classrooms. But it’s recognized by the U.S. Library of Congress as one the 100 Hollywood films most worth preserving.

The story of Salt is the subject of a new documentary film called Remembering Salt – The Cold War Comes to Small Town Canada. A booklet by the same name is available at amazon.com.

For Moments in Labor History, I’m Ron Verzuh.

Musical accompaniment: Opening theme music from Salt. Available on YouTube.

Moments in Labour History is part of a regular podcast produced by United Steel Workers Local 9346 in Sparwood, B.C.

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One Response to Labour History Moments – Remembering Salt

  1. Liza Rognas on May 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Hello from Olympia, WA
    home of the Evergreen State College. Lin Nelson and Peter Kardas brought back a booklet called “Remembering Salt” and I have placed it in our campus library. Is there a DVD of the documentary I can buy for the college as well? We have such a straong labor history curriculum at Evergreen, we’re hungry for the documentary, whenever you release it. We’ll even be happy to buy the in-production version. Please let me know
    Liza Rognas
    Social Sciences Librarian
    The Evergreen State College

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