1941 film shows striking animators brandishing a working guillotine at the Disney studio gates

The 1941 Disney animator's strike was bitterly fought, as Walt Disney refused to grant the concessions that all the other animation studios had agreed to, and instead grew paranoid and accusatory, convinced the "Communist infiltrators" had turned his animators against him.

One poorly remembered -- but vivid! -- moment from the strike was when Chuck Jones led Warner animators came to join the picket line in solidarity, bringing with them a working guillotine with a mannequin styled to look like Gunther Lessing, the Disney attorney.

Archivist John Basmajian has preserved and digitized a film of the guillotine, along with many other Disney rarities.

As Gizmodo's Mat Novak notes, we tend to gloss over the more radical elements in union history in our contemporary retellings of famous strikes, but these were not polite, timid affairs. Unions attained their goals through radical, relentless action that put them at risk and brooked no compromise.

Other labor organizations showed solidarity to the striking workers and made it hard for Disney to do business. Technicolor refused to process Disney’s footage, printers refused to print the Mickey Mouse comic strip, and the American Federation of Labor (now part of the AFL-CIO) called for a boycott of all Disney products.

The federal government sent a judge to mediate the dispute, but Walt Disney wasn’t having it. He was an angry man and wasn’t about to let his workers win anything. It was only after Disney left for South America to conduct research for films that would hopefully coax those countries not to side with the Axis powers in World War II, that anything got done. The strike was settled on July 28, 1941 and the workers got a raise, with many animators seeing their pay double. But Disney sabotaged the most high profile union agitators until they quit over the next few years.

That Time Animators Brought a Guillotine to the Disney Labor Strike in 1941 [Mat Novak/Paleofuture]