Review: Workers unite to fight for better life in NYC

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There’s no denying that “The Hand That Feeds” has political preaching on its mind. Then again, there’s no denying that the people at its center are being severely abused.

Those people would be the immigrant workers at a New York City deli called Hot and Crusty. Because they’re undocumented workers, they are generally paid less than minimum wage, get no overtime differential and no benefits. The deli’s manager berates them and holds the constant threat of being fired over their heads.

As the film begins, a shy, chubby sandwich maker named Mahoma Lopez decides he’s had enough. He contacts some local labor organizers and eventually forms a union. The union begins to negotiate new terms of employment with the owners, but then the owners decide to shut the place down rather than deal with a union.

Along the way, members of Occupy Wall Street join the cause, often acting as protestors who can afford to go to jail since the workers would risk deportation if they were busted. Idealistic lawyers, community members, and members of other unions all join in a long siege in front of the shuttered deli.

Obviously, all this reflects mightily on the state of income inequality in America, on the inadequacy of minimum wage laws and the ability of the upper class to crush low-rung workers. Directors Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears follow the fight from beginning to end, tracking Lopez as he grows from frustrated, abused employee to empowered activist, obviously cheering him on along the way.

Yes, the film is too often rah-rah union propaganda. But it’s also a moving story about hope rising among the neglected and mistreated, about people banding together for a common good, and about the value of strength and perseverance. That sounds awfully American.



‘The Hand That Feeds’


Not rated

Running time: 85 minutes