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Which Side Are You On? The Life and Death of Mike Quill

A Macdara Vallely film

This compelling and timely documentary charts the rise of Mike Quill, an Irishman who came to this country penniless and illiterate and then went on to be one of the most cunning and courageous leaders in the twentieth century labour movement. Quill’s achievements are numerous and helped transform the lives of millions of workers by setting standards for equal pay for women and minorities, ensuring the guarantee of health benefits, and securing paid medical leave. However, Quill paid the ultimate price for his convictions. Just a few days after claiming victory in the seminal New York City transit strike of 1966, he suffered a heart-attack in jail and died shortly afterward.

Michael Quill changed the course of US labor relations forever. His story is not only timely, it carries an urgent contemporary message because once again we find ourselves at a point in history where workers’ inequality has become the main driving force of political upheaval and unrest across the globe. As many victories of Quill’s era are rolled back by legislation backed by dubious interests, Which Side Are You On? will show how Quill’s ideals remain a crucial bulwark against forces that continue to threaten our democracy. Quill’s critical place in the fabric of American culture deserves a wider audience, and with your support, this film will help ensure his contribution is more widely recognized.

The film’s producers are Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller. Valley is an Irish-born filmmaker with a strong personal tie to this story: his great uncle Monsignor Owen Rice was a close friend of Quill’s and officiated at his funeral. Miller is an industry veteran whose many film credits include Lone Star by John Sayles. The two have worked together previously on the award winning feature film Babygirl (2013).

Financial support can come in any amount and all donations are 100% tax deductible. Donors for any amount under $20 will receive a free download of the film when completed. There are, however, four special sponsorship levels: Platinum $2,500 and over, Gold $1250, Silver $500, Bronze $250. All sponsors will be given a credit on the film, plus an invitation to attend a special NYC premiere of the film.


Born into a humble, Irish-speaking family in the West coast of Ireland, he fought on the losing side of Ireland’s Civil War. An exiled member of the Irish Revolutionary Army (IRA), he fell on hard times and immigrated to New York in 1926 where he found work in the New York City subway system. Appalled by the conditions he encountered, he set about to change things by any means necessary. In 1934, he helped found the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and working with his old comrades in the IRA and the Communist Party, Quill quickly gained the respect of his fellow workers as a fearless leader. For the next three decades, fought tooth-and-nail for the rights of working men and women. He used IRA-style guerrilla tactics against hired goons and scabs; played cat and mouse games with company spies; allied himself with communists and civil rights leaders; and engaged in numerous legal clashes with the FBI. He also joined forces with a broad alliance of labour forces in the USA to win landmark victories and was an early supporter and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, Quill made it his life’s mission to break the color line across industries, something that prompted King to refer to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” 

In January 1966, Quill defied a New York City court-order and called a citywide transit strike that lasted 12 days. It brought the city to a halt and resulted in a landmark victory that changed the course of US labor relations forever. However, for the union’s thousands of members the victory was bittersweet, for Quill, who had been arrested for his role in the strike, suffered a heart-attack in jail and died a few short days after claiming victory.

Producers: Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller

Director: Macdara Vallely

Associated Members

MACDARA VALLELY, Independent Filmmaker


We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation