Listening to their father at the dinner table as he “lectured on social ills,” Victor Reuther remembers, he and his two brothers—Walter and Roy—developed the moral and political sensibility that would shape their adult lives. And when they went to work at factories in Detroit, the three of them were moved by the cruel conditions and long hours to try to organize their fellow laborers. Beginning in the 1930s and carrying through the next two decades, the brothers led the labor movement: their efforts form the focus of Brothers on the Line, screening 16 October at Stranger Than Fiction, where it will be followed by a Q&A with director Sasha Reuther.
The Reuthers approached their work pragmatically, working together and sometimes working alongside gangsters and thugs, sometimes targeted by them (Victor, who died in 2004, appears here to tell the story of the assault on him that “ripped out” his eye and left him in the hospital). Their efforts led to the formation of the UAW, in which Walter became an especially public figure, as he gorged relationships with the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others over his many years at the foreground of seeking safety, health care, and economic fairness for the workers he represented. The film pulls together an incredible collection of photographs and film footage, indicating the difficulties of the time and place, and also the remarkable fortitude of the organized protestors. Interviews with the Reuthers’ children and grandchildren are framed by those with survivors of the era and historians, all reminding you how precious unions once were, and how sad it is that today, only 7% of workers in the US are unionized.