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In 1951, women in New Mexico took over a labor strike demanding equal treatment for Hispanic workers both in pay and living conditions. Salt of the Earth is based on their struggle and is one of the first films to explore equal rights for women.

See Salt of the Earth

In 1951, women in New Mexico took over a labor strike demanding equal treatment for Hispanic workers both in pay and living conditions. Salt of the Earth is based on their struggle and is one of the first films to explore equal rights for women.

Inspired by their struggle, blacklisted screen writer Michael Wilson wrote a script, which after revisions, was directed by Herbert Biberman. The actors, mostly member of the mine union and their families, suffered threats and attacks as rumors spread that the film crew were all communists.

This gritty, realistic film depicts the fight for racial and gender equality in a mining town with scenes that still resonate strongly with a modern audience. 

About Salt of the Earth

Directed by: Herbert J. Biberman

Produced by: Paul Jarrico

Screenplay by: Michael Wilson

Starring :

Rosaura Revueltas

Will Geer

David Wolfe

Mervin Williams

David Sarvis

Ernesto Velázquez

Juan Chacón

Henrietta Williams

Music by: Sol Kaplan

Cinematography: Stanley Meredith, Leonard Stark

Edited by: Joan Laird, Ed Spiegel

Distributed by: Independent Productions

Release date: March 14, 1954 (New York City)

Running time: 94 minutes

Language: English and Spanish

Budget $250,000

What was the name of the mining company?

The strike was against the Empire Zinc Company near Silver City, New Mexico.

What where they fighting for?

Pay based on the time spent in the mine (collar-to-collar), a paid holiday, working conditions, wage differentials linked to industry-wide scales, ending the “Mexican wage” and equality. In response to negotiations Empire Zinc refused to bargain in good faith and offered a 5 cent per-hour raise while increasing the work week by 8 hours.

When did the strike happen?

 The union voted to strike on October 17th, 1950. The strike ended January 1952.

What happened to strikers on the picket line?

Violence against the female strikers included being hit by cars[2], tear gas and beatings. One man was shot.


Why did deputies attack the strikers?

Salaries of Sheriff Leslie Goforth’s deputies were paid by the mining company.[1] Some assaults were by vigilantes. 

Was anyone ever charged with attacking the strikers?

 Marvin Mosely and Bob Capshaw were charged with assault of female picketers but were acquitted.*

How many women and children were arrested?

 39 women and 17 children were arrested on June 16th, 1951 after being tear gassed by deputies.[3]

Did the strikers fight or defend themselves?

Women “held the line” by throwing rocks, pepper and chile sauce and hat pins.[4] There was at least 1 car "demolished" by protestors.

Who was trying to blacklist the movie?

Representative Donald L. Jackson, a member of the Committee on Un-American Activities sought legal ways to prevent the movie from being made including asking government agencies how to prevent the film from being exported, and asking people in Hollywood, including Howards Hughes, how to prevent the film from being finish.

As a result of Jackson’s efforts film labs would not process the film and most theaters would not show the movie out of fear of reprisals by the big Hollywood studios.  

 

[1]Santa Fe New Mexican August 15, 1951, pg. 3.

[2] Hobbs Daily News Sun August 23, 1951, pg. 21.

[3]  Clovis News Journal June 18, 1951, pg. 1.

[4] Santa Fe New Mexican July 12, 1951, pg. 3.