FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Occupy, Resist, Produce!

by SEAN CAIN

With the popularity of such documentaries as Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott’s The Corporation and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, so-called “guerrilla filmmaking” is quickly becoming a new genre in itself.

The most recent example of this is The Take, a Canadian documentary written by No Logo author Naomi Klein and directed by her husband, former CBC Counterspin host Avi Lewis. The backdrop of the film is the spectacular failure of neo-liberal economics in Argentina. It is the same story that could be told of a multitude of countries from the Global South: under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Argentina’s government, led by President Carlos Menem, privatizes state assets, deregulates financial markets, cuts social spending, raises interest rates to unprecedented levels, and slashes wages. Not surprisingly, the incomes of the wealthy and powerful increase almost exponentially, while unemployment and poverty skyrocket for the poor and working class, leaving the society ridden with greater inequality and public squalor. This leads to a financial collapse in 2001, when even hundreds of thousands of well-to-do, middle-class Argentines lose their jobs and savings.

The documentary takes viewers into the industrial wastelands of the country, where, after the crisis, thousands of factories are abandoned and stripped of their assets by their owners. Out of desperation, some of the unemployed workers fight back, organizing to re-take control of their former industries and manage them on their own, without owners or bosses. As the workers’ motto proudly states: “Occupy, Resist, Produce!”

Klein and Lewis introduce viewers to Freddie Espinosa and his family, who have spent virtually all of their savings since Espinosa lost his job at the Forja auto parts factory. The documentary follows Espinosa and his co-workers as they attempt to salvage their factory and resume work. They are supported by, and learn from, other workers in Argentina who have successfully expropriated industries and placed them under workers’ control, including those at Zanon Ceramics and the Brukman garment factories.

Klein and Lewis also cover the politics of Argentina, including a presidential election that took place during the actual filming. Seeking a political comeback, disgraced conservative Carlos Menem, blamed by most Argentines for the crisis, is challenged by a more progressive rival, Peronist Nestor Kirchner. The documentary includes a clip of a hilarious Menem TV campaign commercial, where Menem apologizes for his previous economic mismanagement and then, with a straight face, attempts to display himself as a Christ-like figure seeking forgiveness from the voters of Argentina.

Unlike a Michael Moore documentary, Klein and Lewis have limited time on camera. Instead, they let the cameras roll, filming how the Forja workers confront one crisis after another. They are the stars of the film. Framing a grim reality, The Take films the workers and their families as they face off against the former owner of the factory, corporate-backed politicians, the corrupt Argentine judicial system, and an appallingly violent police state. There is an alternative to global capitalism, but no one said that creating workplace democracy was going to be easy.

As decades of labour research has shown, industries that are self-managed and controlled democratically by their workers are, under static conditions, more efficient and cost-effective than companies that possess a traditional, top-down, bureaucratic form of administration. More importantly, they also create far better working conditions for employees. Further studies have revealed that those working in democratic workplaces tend to live longer and healthier, enjoy more satisfying personal and family life, and are more likely to engage in social activities such as volunteering, community service and political participation.

Of course, we’re not supposed to know this. People are trained to believe that workers are uninformed, careless, and lack the capability to manage their own businesses. The irony about this myth is illustrated in the film, where the former owners who only a few years ago abandoned their businesses, including Mr. Zanon of the ceramics factory, all of a sudden want them back now that many of them are operating so successfully.

A noteworthy scene is an interview with a female worker at the Brukman garment factory, who speaks of being both surprised and relieved to realize how easy it was for workers to manage the factory and undertake such duties as accounting, purchasing, sales, and other financial planning, activities that were once thought only to be the responsibilities of educated and well-paid managers. When asked about the larger picture, she smiles and confidently declares, “Maybe we can run the entire country this way.”

She was definitely on to something here. Due to whatever reason, whether time, budget or the desired focus of the film, Klein and Lewis don’t look at the larger picture of a democratically-controlled economy that is socially-owned and controlled by workers and consumers.

What does the existence of worker-managed companies say of the millions of other workers who still labour under the thumb of corporate management in other businesses? And what happens if some of the democratic firms cannot survive in the global economy? Could they be forced to cut back production and fire workers in order to remain afloat? This could result in a kind of “people’s capitalism,” where worker-controlled firms have to compete with each other, just like traditional corporations.

This is where the issue of social ownership becomes vitally important: factories, as well as entire economies, would need to be owned and planned democratically by local communities to guarantee full employment, environmental sustainability and social justice.

This is not a critique of the The Take or of the courageous struggles of Freddie Espinosa and thousands of other working people in Argentina. We in the more industrialized world have much to learn from them, and it is only these struggles that will lead to larger mobilizations for economic democracy on a global scale.

As one woman working in a democratic enterprise proudly declares near the end of the film, “We are now where the rest of the world is going.”

SEAN CAIN is a freelance writer from Oakville, Ontario. Cain can be reached at: seancain@hotmail.com

For more information about The Take, visit www.thetake.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail