On May Day in 2012, hundreds of protestors march through the crowded streets of lower Manhattan, carrying banners and the words “Workers’ Rights Are Humans Rights” on hand-painted signs. Police officers in full uniform patrol the streets. Shouts rise from protesters. A band plays as it marches along. Two men hold a sheet sign up as they stare into the camera, both men grinning with joy and triumph.
The man on the left is Mahoma López, an employee of the Hot and Crusty franchise in New York City who uses his newfound strengths and power to form a union against the unjust wages and protocol of the franchise. He says, “In organizing you realize that changes in society are made by movements.”
The Hand That Feeds follows Mahoma through a hard-won fight to receive proper rights as a worker. He is an undocumented immigrant; to the owners of Mahoma’s specific Hot and Crusty, not deemed worthy enough to receive a living wage and paid vacation. Cellphone recordings by Mahoma show the measly salary of $290 for 60 hours; even though the minimum wage in NYC at that point in time was $7.25, Hot and Crusty workers were barely paid $5 an hour.
At the beginning of the documentary, Mahoma stumbles over words. We learn that he doesn’t believe protests will necessarily work, but as the documentary continues through frames of unjust employment and verbal abuse in the streets by Wall Street businessmen, Mahoma learns how to use his voice for the benefit of himself, his family, and his fellow workers. “We’re willing to lose everything but we won’t give in,” Mahoma now says.
This OVID.tv Film Shows the Human Side of Union Struggle
Throughout the documentary, cellphone recordings during Hot and Crusty picketing and archive footage from the Occupy Wall Street protests show the disrespect the workers face as they fight for the rights and respect. Meanwhile clips and photos of family members bring our attention back to the humanness of the workers. Mahoma’s wife looks into the camera and addresses her concerns that Mahoma’s union isn’t the way to go—it’s too risky, the unjust wages notwithstanding. One of Mahoma’s coworkers, for example, works solely to provide money for his daughter who is in college. Clips show him wiring hard earned money to his daughter, so she won’t drop out of school.
For those audience members whose knowledge of legal matters regarding labor unions and workers’ rights might be lacking, don’t fret. We understand enough to know how risky a union is, especially for undocumented immigrants who could be arrested and deported, and how debilitating a loss could be for the workers and their families.
We are there in the struggle with them. Through phone calls, meetings around cluttered tables, and documents outlining laws and agreements with a closeup on the most important phrases, we see how these workers take matters into their own hands.
As they build a community set on achieving rights due to them, they give us hope. You might feel that in almost every scene, we feel injected with these strong beams of hope. As we move through scenes of chopped lettuce, grueling meetings in a small room, and quick glimpses of Manhattan streets, we realize Mahoma and his coworkers will stop at nothing to get what is due to them. Regardless of their immigrant status and regardless of where they live in society, they believe in their rights. Their fight is for the one thing that should’ve already been given to them: respect.
The Hand That Feeds is a good documentary for those with a great interest in legal matters regarding workers’ rights and unions and how the workers triumph and suffer from the touchy process of building a successful union in the normative American economy. Those without an interest in these topics should pass on this documentary.
Length: 84 minutes
Directors: Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
Writers: Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
CAST: Virgilio Arán, Gonzalo Jiménez, Mahoma López
For more information or to watch the film, visit the OVID.tv page for THE HAND THAT FEEDS.
Images courtesy of OVID.tv.
About the Author:
Annabelle Harsch is a senior at the University of Dayton where she studies English and marketing. While at college, Annabelle finds opportunities to deepen her knowledge in the arts, whether that includes watching theatre or film productions, or picking out a new book. In her free time, Annabelle enjoys hiking, kayaking, and reviving dead plants.