Grand Budapest Hotel’s Story of Worker Solidarity

Wes Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a lovely paean to a lost era but it’s also a subtle story of workers and worker solidarity.

Set mostly in the 1930′s in the fictional central European nation of Zubrowka, the film’s heroes are the concierge and lobby-boy at the Grand Budapest, a luxurious hotel where bejewelled and top-hatted Old European nobles — the 1% of the day — enjoy the finer things in life.

As usual in Anderson’s films, the story, as convoluted and entertaining as it is, is less important than the quirky characters and intricately detailed sets on which the film plays out. After all the rushing about, what stands out this time is the sympathetic portrayal of the nobility of the work done by what today are simply called service workers.

While Grand Budapest concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is tyrannical and exacting in his attention to every detail in the vast hotel — click here for Gustave’s lobby-boy job interview while walking briskly through the lobby issuing commands in all directions — he is also fiercely loyal to his fellow workers, which not only sets the film’s main plotline in motion but ultimately exacts a costly price. And when Gustave winds up in prison, his dedication to his work there quickly earns him the loyalty of even the most hardened prisoners. The unwavering commitment of young lobby-boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) to his job, to the hotel as an institution and to Gustave as his boss and colleague, will be perfectly understandable to any union hotel worker today.

Young Zero’s apprenticeship as a lobby-boy and the pastry-maker’s dedication to her craft also resonate as memories of bygone days when work had implicit dignity in a job well-done and respected, if not by the oblivious hotel guests then by other workers.

In one of the best scenes in the film, Gustave, on the lam and stranded in the middle of no-where, activates the network of European hotel concierges to rescue him. It’s the sort of organization that would probably have been called a guild or mutual aid society in those days. A union, in other words.

All filmmaking by definition is teamwork among professionals and colleagues in which everyone has a job and must effectively carry out that work both individually and as part of the collective whole. Anderson, like his protaganist, is legendary for both his work ethic and attention to detail as well as for his generous collegiality, and that solidarity shines through brilliantly, on-screen and off, in “Grand Budapest.”

Chris Garlock is the Director of the DC Labor FilmFest, celebrating its 14th year in May-June 2014 and this year anchoring the first annual DC LaborFest, a monthlong celebration of labor arts and culture in May 2014. Details at

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This Week, We Could Expand One of the Nation’s Highest Living Wages to Thousands More Families

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Working America members will attend the final county commission public hearing to express their support for an ordinance establishing a living wage in the unincorporated areas of Santa Fe County.

The City of Santa Fe has had one of the nation’s highest minimum wages since a living wage ordinance was adopted in 2002. Thanks to a cost-of-living adjustment, it will be $10.65 as of March 1, 2014.  But outside the city limits, thousands workers in surrounding Santa Fe County are still working under the statewide minimum of $7.25 an hour–and in places with weak enforcement, even less.

“No one deserves to live below the poverty line,” said Reel Working America member Willie Martin. Martin and other Working America members collected hundreds of petition signatures in support of the Santa Fe County Living Wage Ordinance.

Both houses of the New Mexico legislature passed a minimum wage increase last year, but Governor Susana Martinez vetoed the measure, calling it a “gimmick.” Recognizing the growing popularity of raising the minimum wage, Gov. Martinez vetoed the bill on Good Friday at the beginning of a long weekend, and scrubbed any mention of the veto from her taxpayer-funded official website.

That didn’t deter Working America members and organizers from pressuring the leaders of the state’s largest county, Bernalillo, to expand Albuquerque’s minimum wage increase countywide. And it won’t stop us from expanding Santa Fe’s groundbreaking living wage to that entire county either. Taken together, we’ve raised wages for roughly 40 percent of New Mexico’s population despite Gov. Martinez’s secretive veto.

Working America members include workers, consumers and business owners who support and benefit from raising the wage in Santa Fe County. Among these members there are also members of Reel Working America, a joint program of Working America and IATSE 480 for film and technical workers who don’t have a union on the job. Reel Working America is composed of background performers, film students, and filmmakers who believe Santa Fe County workers deserve to make a living wage similar to the city of Santa Fe.

Working America has 110,000 members in New Mexico and 4,500 members in Santa Fe County. Reel Working America has 1,000 members.

Learn more by liking our Working New Mexico Facebook page.

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How Will Governor Martinez Treat Film Workers in 2014?

The next legislative session in New Mexico is coming up in January. Our REEL Working America chapter in Las Vegas, NM started conversations about what they would like to see from our lawmakers in 2014.

Many of the REEL members are part of the film industry and share a common interest to keep jobs coming to New Mexico by having strong tax incentives for film jobs. Having a steady stream of full jobs benefits the film community and the entire state of New Mexico.

At a recent series workshop event, REEL Working America hosted a movie night where we showed Made in New Mexico by Brent Morris. This documentary mapped out the history of film in New Mexico and highlighted the importance of making it a state that welcomes the film industry to its backyard.

In March 2013, Governor Susana Martinez vetoed a strong film incentives bill, known as the “Breaking Bad” bill. She signed a weaker version of the bill into law, but Gov. Martinez’s aversion to helping the NM film industry thrive is a big concern for REEL Working America members.

The members of REEL Las Vegas demonstrated their support by taking part in a photo petition that showing why they care about NM film.

The year is coming to a close. However, the REEL Las Vegas chapter will keep meeting and gathering local and statewide support to stand behind film workers across the state.

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Viva Las Vegas…New Mexico: We’re Ready to Boost Local Film Industry

In the beautiful small city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Reel Working America members are ready to improve the local film industry.

When Reel Working America members in Las Vegas first started meeting as a Community Action Team back in May, they had a lot of unanswered questions about the film industry. Nancy Upthegrove-Jaramillo wondered if there was a local film directory and if it was up-to-date. “Where can we look for this film directory? Can we create our own?” asked Jaramillo, a long-time educator and background performer.

Another member, Diego Romero, an independent filmmaker and actor, wondered where independent filmmakers could seek resources to make low-budget films in his hometown.
Kerry Loewen, currently a professor at New Mexico Highlands University, said he’d like to get the word out about Las Vegas as a reliable workforce of background performers and crew members to attract more films and TV series.

Collectively, they decided they needed answers to these questions. This past Tuesday, Reel Working America members and the Las Vegas Film Commission met to discuss current projects and priorities. During this meet-and-greet, our members prepared a set of questions they wanted to ask the commission, including how Reel Working America can support the commission’s work. This question sparked a dialogue about potential projects like the creation of a local film directory, background etiquette workshops, film opportunities and training.

“One of our priorities is to get the community more involved in helping film grow in Las Vegas,” said film liaison Lindsey Hill. Reel Working America members in Las Vegas embrace this invitation enthusiastically. They are eager, talented, and ready to make Las Vegas the best place for film and TV productions.

If you are currently in New Mexico and you are interested in learning more about Reel Working America, contact Member Coordinator Brenda Rodriguez at [email protected]

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