Elia Kazan's film of On The WaterfrontWhy might the ending upset the unionists?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The entire film might be taken as presenting an argument for union busting. The government is investigating the stevedore's union because it is run by mobsters. All the union members are intimidated. One of them is actually murdered because he is cooperating with the government investigators and not remaining "deaf and dumb." The crusading Catholic priest is trying to persuade the stevedores to help the government clean up the union by testifying before a congressional committee. When the hero's own brother is killed by the mobsters, he becomes an informant and inspires all the union members to turn against the mobsters and go to work as independent contractors. Supposedly they will elect new representatives and continue to have union representation, but that is left vague at the end. The film seems to be suggesting that unions are crooked and that workers are better off without union representation. Budd Shulberg was only trying to show that there was considerable corruption in some unions, but he did not have a real solution to the problem. The problem still exists in some unions after many years. The film was an expose and a tour de force for Marlon Brando.