Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae
Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae portrays the plight of the Southern factory worker during the 1970’s. As the film progresses and Norma Rae fights for her rights, it is difficult to believe that economic system under which she works is that of capitalism. Yet, the very idea that she is able to advocate for her self and for others, as workers in a factory with the support of a union organizer, demonstrates the role of the worker in a capitalist society. Norma Rae was able to form a union because the system maintained that she had the authority to do so.
The formation of the factory was based in capitalism. Financial capital is used to gain access to resources. The textile factory that employed Norma Rae may not have been a purely capitalist environment, but the society in which it was constructed was fundamentally capitalist. That society permitted establishment of a union in the factory to ensure workers rights. The Textile Workers Union of America sent a representative to the factory to ensure that the company was obeying the laws of the greater capitalist society. Those laws were established with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (Wagner Act) which protects workers rights to unionize. The representative, Rueben Wychofsky, understood the provision of this law and its subsequent amendments and used his rights and the rights of the workers to create a union. This process occurred with the help of Norma Rae, an employee who rallied the other workers to exercise their rights. Society’s sanctions in the form of labor laws forced the factory to obey the conventions of capitalist society in the form of better working conditions and a fair wage.
A capitalist society is rooted in its labor market. Such a market existed in the town that served as the setting for Norma Rae. While the textile factory may have been the largest employer in the town, there were other opportunities for employment. Norma Rae’s husband found another job before they were married, which demonstrates other existing employment options for the workers. He was able to support himself and his daughter through a different employer. This indicates that there was some choice of employment, which implies the presence of capitalism. However small or restrictive the employment opportunities might be, if there is a free labor market, then capitalism is present.
The movie contains further evidence that this textile factory operated in a capitalistic environment. Although the workers were paid by the rack, their wage of $1.33 was awarded in money, not company script. There was also no...