It may have seemed obvious and easy from the point of view of the modern man, but getting a decent work day with decent wages was a fight that the whole world has struggled with for quite some time. As we have learned from Wall Street Protests and the Arab Spring, it is hard to organize sweeping change. In fact what did these two events really change? Instead of changing much, we got to see how corrupt our media, our police force and our government has been and will continue to be. Monicelli explores this theme extensively in his film from the mid-sixties, The Organizer.
In nineteenth century Italy, the poor were exploited by the very rich. Workers were subjected to fourteen hour days, minuscule pay, and no protection from injury. While the owners of the textile factory they are working in see enormous profits. Once a man gets his arm caught in a big machine, the workers realize that they need to take some action in order to make their quality of life better. They try several different ways, but each way blows up in their face. That is until a man comes into town. A former high school professor, this stranger has decided to dedicate his efforts into educating and organizing labor unions. He tells them that they are going to walk out and go on strike. Everyone is enthusiastic and prepare for the event like it is Christmas. But complications ensue and the strikers are out of work for close to a month. During this time, they all run out of food, they stop workers from coming in from other towns and they organize big protests. But it all seems futile. The bosses aren’t budging (at least they appear to not be budging) and the workers turn on their beloved organizer. The organizer is an idealist and has to continue being that way in order to survive. He believes that things will turn around. But the director does not let us know if it does or not.
This film seems like a more truthful depiction of collective action than movies we see today. When you organize, you are pushing against a structure that has been in place for so long and is strong both financially and politically. No matter how hard you push, you feel like you are going nowhere. But you feel like you have to do something. This is how each worker in the film feels. Some of them are resistant to rocking the boat, but all of them know that what they are subjected to is wrong on a basic human level. Just like it was wrong for banks to swindle us out of our hard-earned money in order make bigger profits.