Film Review: Bread and Roses


Going to the movies nowadays can be a demoralizing experience. We rarely see examples of human solidarity and courage against injustice, or the beauty, creativity, and power of average working people depicted there. Most movies don’t encourage us to value our own lives or learn about the many important struggles that working-class people have waged throughout history.

“Bread and Roses” is a striking exception to this, and sure to be inspiring for most people who see it. It is an independent film made by Ken Loach, a British director responsible for creating a number of excellent films over the years, such as “Land and Freedom,” about the Spanish Civil War.

Loach’s most recent film takes place in Los Angeles and is about a group of janitors who struggle to improve their working conditions and their lives. It is a fictional story, but is based upon real events that took place during the janitors’ strike last year.

The film focuses on the life of a young worker named Maya, who comes to LA from Mexico. In order to survive, she gets a cleaning job with her sister at a major office building downtown. She is forced to do hard work under very bad conditions for little pay and no benefits. Even worse is that the boss is a tyrannical and abusive man who constantly mistreats and degrades Maya and all of the other workers, most of whom are immigrants as well.

The film does an excellent job depicting the plight of Mexican and other Latin American immigrant workers in the United States who face especially bad conditions on the job every day. It shows how they are taken advantage of and super-exploited because of their status in this country.

When the workers are pushed too far by their boss they begin to fight back. Although they face many obstacles along the way, they wage a successful strike and publicity campaign that wins recognition for the union and important gains in the areas of wages and benefits.

The story of the workers in “Bread and Roses” shows the power that working people have when they join together as a class and fight for their rights.

The film is excellent in many other ways as well. It points out the contradiction between the tremendous wealth of the United States and the fact that so many people here are forced to go without the basic necessities of life.

It also deals with some of the problems that workers encounter in the course of struggle. For example, it shows the common tactic of management to try to seek out certain workers who can be bought off with promotions and used to snitch on other workers. And it exposes the role played by the trade-union officialdom in trying to squelch the militant action of the rank and file.

What is most inspiring about the film and involving for the viewer is the extent to which the struggle of the janitors is personalized through the character of Maya and other workers. We see them deal with many issues that workers have to confront when they engage in struggles-for example, a lack of confidence in themselves and enormous risks to their lives and jobs.

They also must consider the choice of whether to struggle for the benefit of all or to try to advance individually at the expense of everyone else. A few workers refuse to participate in the organizing and one betrays her co-workers in order to move up at work. But most of them join with each other in struggle for their collective improvement.

During the course of the organizing campaign we see the wonderful transformation that people undergo when they are part of a social movement: the growth of their courage, consciousness, and solidarity with one another and their ability to rely on each other as fighters in a common cause.

I would recommend “Bread and Roses” to anyone who can see it. If you can’t find it playing in a theater, look for it on video when it comes out.

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