FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Occupy, Resist, Produce!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zibi: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail