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WTTW Airs Captivating 1981 Documentary The Last Pullman Car for Labor Day

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 31, 2012 9:00PM

2012_08_31_pullman.jpg As many of us enjoy a day off of work on Monday it doesn't hurt to also remember that there would be no Labor Day three day weekend to enjoy without the Pullman Strike of 1894. This first national strike in United States history started in the now-Chicago neighborhood and involved 250,000 workers in 27 states. It led directly to Congress's unanimous vote to create a federal holiday celebrating “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

So after enjoying some barbecue, watching some sports and packing away your white clothing, we recommend tuning in tuning in to WTTW at 10 p.m. to catch The Last Pullman Car, Kartemquin Film's documentary about the United Steelworkers Local 1834's doomed attempt to keep the Pullman-Standard Company from shutting down its facility in Pullman almost a century after that first strike.

The fly-on-the-wall observation of the events orchestrated by filmmakers (and Kartemquin co-founders) Gordon Quinn and Jerry Blumenthal has only grown more fascinating over the decades. Watching the 1981 workers fight to keep manufacturing jobs in their community from a 2012 whose moribund post-manufacturing economy is not at all unrelated to the loss of said fight, is not always easy. It's all the more timely with the hint of strike currently in the air, and the atmosphere of those facing the punishing 1980 and 1981-82 recessions seems pretty familiar to us too.

Today it is no feat to see the story of the shut-down of the Pullman Company, which once had a workforce of 8,000, as emblematic a story of American manufacturing as we've seen. It was more impressive that Quinn and Blumenthal were able to capture it so clearly at the time. “The Last Pullman Car began when some of the workers approached us about the struggle they were in to save the last American manufacturer of rail cars,” said Quinn. “Over the next few months we began to see that their story was a story about the future of America and they began to trust us enough to let us into the center of the conflict."

The Last Pullman Car airs at 10 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 3 on WTTW.