April 28, 2009
Films About Organized Labor
Posted by Gordon Smith

As readers of The Glom know, my twin sons are trying to earn all 121 Scouting merit badges. This is a goal that was suggested to them by their first Boy Scout leader after he saw how diligent they were in fulfilling their assignments. Recently, we learned that earning all available merit badges is extremely unusual. Troy Pugh is attempting to collect information on every Scout who has ever accomplished this goal at Merit Badge Knot, where he writes, "it has been said that fewer than 100 scouts have ever earned all of the merit badges that were available to them."

We have been fortunate to live in a community that is very supportive of the twins. As a result, rather than serving as the counselors on most of their merit badges, we have encouraged the twins to find (or helped them to find) other adults who have expertise in the subject of the merit badge. This has been a great learning opportunity for the boys, who have interacted with all sorts of people.

We are now in the home stretch, working on the last 20+ merit badges, and as you might imagine, many of these are on subjects for which counselors have been more difficult for us to locate. Which leads me to the topic of this post: American Labor. My neighborhood is filled with accountants, lawyers, doctors, professors, and entrepreneurs, but no labor leaders. We probably have some union members, but none have volunteered as counselors for the American Labor merit badge, which means that I am drawing on my own blue collar upbringing, a love of American history, and a class taken long ago in Labor Law to serve as the counselor for this merit badge. Given the recent troubles in the automobile industry, it's hard to imagine a more opportune time to study this topic.

One of the options for the merit badge asks the boys to "watch a movie that addresses organized labor in the United States." The American Labor pamphlet recommends Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films About Labor for reviews of 350+ films about labor issues. I also found a not-very-active blog by the book's author on labor films and globalization, including a recent plug for State of Play. (Probably not what the Boy Scouts had in mind for this requirement.)

Although all of this information is interesting, it's a bit much for me to process. I would rather just cut through the noise and find the one film that would best fulfill the spirit of the merit badge. Any suggestions?

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