April 10, 1984

TV Reviews; 'Killing Floor,' American Workers
By John J. O'Connor

Played by Damien Leake, previously seen in the ''American Playhouse'' version of ''Medal of Honor Rag,'' Custer becomes the focal character, caught between a shifting pattern of conflicting forces. A quiet, thoughtful man, he simply wants to make enough money to bring his wife and children to Chicago and settle down to a reasonably normal life. The more outspoken Joshua (Ernest Rayford), unable to deal with overt prejudice, decides to go off to war. He will return, even more embittered, to tragedy.

At the meat factory, where Custer works in the slaughtering area known as the killing floor, the white workers, recognizing that there is strength only in numbers, are trying to recruit the largely reluctant blacks into the struggling union. One black faction, led by Heavy Williams (Moses Gunn), is adamantly opposed to anything proposed by whites. Custer, however, does join the union, making friends with the white ethnic workers and becoming a shop steward. Eventually, he finds himself confronting not only the company bosses but most of his black co-workers as well.

Nothing is resolved in this portrait of one man and a struggling union. It was not until the 1930's that the vision of a strong interracial union was realized. A postscript notes that he and several of the other figures in the film's confrontation had long since dropped out of sight. But ''The Killing Floor'' does an impressive job of outlining the issues and depicting the forces involved, forces that erupted in the bloody race riots of 1919. read more >>
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