Workers take a bow after their performance in this still from the Trash Dance movie.
TRASH DANCE: Choreographing the dignity of work
On April 3 1968, the night before he was assassinated, the great human rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. told 1300 striking Memphis Tennessee sanitation men:
“You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor…. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth…”
To the members of AFSCME, the US public employee union, who have seen the new movie Trash Dance precisely the same affirmation we hear in Martin Luther King’s words is what we see in the film.
Trash collectors, refuse, rubbish, sanitation, resource recovery…by whatever name, our members who do this work, in Local 1733 in Memphis or, as in Trash Dance, Local 1624 in Austin, were and are leaders of the struggle for public services.
Trash Dance will get its European premiere at the London Labour Film Festival on the 1st May 2014. It’s the story of choreographer Allison Orr’s attempt to stage a show on an abandoned airport runway, performed by two dozen of Austin’s sanitation workers and their trucks.
In the film, she rides along with the workers on their daily routes to get to know them and the work that they do, and to try to convince them to perform what sounds like a very unlikely spectacle in front of an audience of thousands.
When you view the film Trash Dance, appreciate it both for what it conveys about the protagonists, for the incredibly compelling way it presents the story, and also for the larger subject: the dignity of labor and the necessity that workers, such as those you’ll meet through the film, be the agents of making a future we can embrace.