David Brancaccio’s thoughts on “9to5: The Story of a Movement”
The documentary film for this month answers an enduring question: What does it take to change a toxic workplace? “9to5: The Story of a Movement” is about organizing office workers, a large and often invisible part of the workforce in the 1970s. People with the job description “secretary” had little recourse if they were treated terribly, which they were. (One office worker recalls being asked to mend her boss’ pants while he was wearing the pants.) “We are referred to as ‘girls’ until the day we retire without pensions,” read a newsletter put out by the 9to5 labor movement, which spread nationwide from Boston throughout the ‘70s. 9to5 made the invisible visible. As one voice in the film put it, it was as if the “wallpaper came alive.”
Early 9to5 activists took courses to learn to identify people affected by injustice. In an era well before Zoom videoconferencing, they understood the importance of creating meeting places. The organizers learned that honing their message was critical and became masters of that message. They hosted attention-grabbing “coffee rebellions,” forcing bosses to fetch it themselves, and staged media events with “awards” for worst bosses. Watching “9to5,” I learned that awareness of exploitation, coupled with the energy of activists, may not be enough to solve a workplace-culture problem. Organizing is an acquired skill.
“9to5: The Story of a Movement,” premiered on PBS the first week of February. Several stations are holding virtual screenings, which you can register for here.
Don’t forget to send us your thoughts and reactions to the film. What did it make you think about? What do you think the filmmakers did well? And where do you think it missed the mark? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll feature those audience reactions in an upcoming newsletter.
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