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Salt of the Earth

Salt of the Earth(1954)


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Thirty-four-year-old Esperanza Quintero, who is pregnant with her third child, lives in Zinc Town, New Mexico, a mining town owned by Delaware Zinc. Esperanza's husband Ramón, a miner, narrowly escapes a catastrophe when he lights dynamite that has a defective fuse. When Ramón later objects to the dangerous working conditions, company man Barton replies that Ramón can easily be replaced by "an American." That night, Esperanza complains to Ramón that she must chop wood for hot water five times a day, while the Anglo miners' homes have hot running water. Ramón, however, insists that safety at the mine is their most important concern. One day, a group of women decides to picket at the mine for more sanitary conditions. As they try to convince Esperanza, who is reluctant to get involved, to join them, an alarm sounds at the mine. Ramón tells superintendent Alexander that the accident would not have happened if conditions were better. Barton accuses Ramón of lying, and when Alexander orders the men back to work, they strike. That night, a few of the women, including Esperanza, attend the union meeting, and one suggests that the strikers also demand sanitation and plumbing for their houses. The men, however, table the discussion. As the men begin picketing outside the mine entrance, out-of-town strikebreakers are recruited, but they turn back when they see the size of the picket lines. After his son Luís and a friend spy some "scabs" at the mine, Ramón chases them, and when he discovers that one of them is a Mexican American whom he knows, he spits on the man and is arrested. As Ramón is beaten by bigoted police, Esperanza goes into labor. Despite the sheriff's refusal to send for a doctor, she delivers a healthy boy. Esperanza waits to christen the baby until Ramón returns from jail. That night, while all the strikers celebrate at the Quintero home, Ramón is criticized for his distrust of whites, but takes the union leader, an Anglo named Frank Barnes, to task for not having learned about Mexican culture. Barnes admits he was at fault, but criticizes Ramón's paternalistic view of women, until his wife Ruth points out his own deficiencies. By the seventh month of the strike, money and food are running low, and some families leave, but soon aid arrives from workers around the country. When the sheriff delivers a Taft-Hartley injunction ordering the striking workers to stop picketing, Barnes explains that if the men obey the order, the strike is lost, as scabs will move in as soon as the picket line is gone. If they defy the order, however, they will be arrested and the strike will be broken. As the men argue, one of the wives suggests that the women take over the picketing since the order applies only to striking miners. The idea is greeted with laughter and then debate. Esperanza insists that the women be allowed to vote along with the men, and the motion narrowly passes. Women from all around the area join the wives of the strikers, while the men watch from the side, but Ramón forbids Esperanza to participate. When a fight breaks out between the deputies and the women, Esperanza passes the baby to Ramón and with a shoe, knocks a gun from an officer's hands. Temporarily defeated, Barton calls off his men. Esperanza now joins the picket line, taking the children with her. After further efforts by the police fail to dislodge the women, Hartwell, a company official from New York, asks the sheriff to arrest them. The Mexican-American scab points out the leaders and includes Esperanza, who brings her baby and little girl to jail with her. When the baby refuses the milk the sheriff provides, the women start to chant. Ramón and Luís retrieve the children. Seeing the determination of the women, Ramón begins to do the housework and realizes the validity of the women's complaints. After four days, Esperanza and the other women are released from jail. Ramón insists that the women have no chance of winning, but Esperanza contends that they can outlast the company and criticizes him for treating her as the bosses treat him. On a hunting trip, Ramón thinks about Esperanza's words. Later, the company obtains an eviction order against the striking miners, and begin their efforts with Ramón and Esperanza. As the women gather outside the Quintero home, the sheriff and his men remove their belongings. The men return from a hunting trip and join the women, and as word spreads, workers and women gather outside the Quintero house. When Ramón understands that the company has resorted to the evictions because, as Esperanza predicted, they cannot fight the picket line, he suggests that Esperanza take their belongings back inside. The other women follow her, and the sheriff, who does not want the women in his jail again, leaves with his men. After Alexander and Hartwell decide to settle the strike, Ramón thanks the "sisters and brothers" and publicly praises Esperanza for her dignity and determination. She now knows that they have won something the bosses cannot take away, which they can leave to their children, the "salt of the earth."