Eye-opening documentary knows the value of hard work
By Devin D. O'Leary
Directed by Avi Lewis
Avi Lewis, host/producer of “CounterSpin” on CBC Newsworld, and Naomi Klein, author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, have been highly visible, highly vocal critics of the International Monetary Fund and the predatory practices of today's corporate giants. Right wing pundits have, for years, needled them with the snippy charge, “Well, what's your solution then, Smartypants?”
With their first major film collaboration, Lewis (as director) and Klein (as writer) have pondered the question and come up with a compelling argument that--shockingly--does not condemn capitalism, but rather peels it back to its purest form. The Take may not answer every problem plaguing today's free market economy, but it's a lucid enough response to silence many naysayers.
On the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lewis and Klein find a fascinating subject for documentary study. It seems that impoverished workers there, abandoned by major corporations in the wake of an economic crash, have begun to take over crumbling old factories and bring them back to life. Locking themselves inside the facilities, kicking out the bosses and fighting off expulsion by police forces, these once oppressed workers are creating a whole new worker-controlled economy.
Argentina began the '90s as the richest, most prosperous country in South America. Into this boom time walked President Carlos Menem. A high-rolling bureaucrat, Menem signed on to the International Monetary Fund and immediately implemented every one of its policies. All at once. In a shockingly short amount of time, the economy of Argentina slumped into the gutter. While the rich quickly secreted their money out of the country (a reported 42 billion dollars in one night!), the middle-class found their lives' savings frozen in insolvent (and barricaded) banks. A near-revolution followed and Menem was tossed out on his ear.
Years later, workers stared idly at the industrial graveyards that littered their country. Just like in America, these corporations were given millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives to locate their plants in Argentina. The second profits dipped, however, the corporations bugged out for cheaper digs in Vietnam or Laos or Mexico. Despite the economic largess of the Argentine government, the corporations left behind billions in debts. In a moment of inspiration, however, the unemployed workers started occupying the abandoned factories and taking up their old jobs.
Freed from the burden of inefficient management and pension fund-raiding CEOs, these factories--not so miraculously--suddenly became models of efficiency. And who should come slinking back the minute these factories started turning a profit? The very same corporations that abandoned the factories, stiffed the workers on their paychecks and looted the Argentine banks.
Lewis and Klein document the efforts of one group of compañeros as they try to get their old auto parts factory up and running under worker-controlled conditions. It's a long and hard road, filled with seemingly insurmountable corporate and bureaucratic pressures.
Recently, instead of democracy being “by the people, for the people,” it has become “by the professional politicians, for the wealthy corporations.” Despite what the terms seem to have mutated into here in America, these Argentine workers are proposing something that is manifestly capitalist and profoundly democratic. Profits are big, salaries are equal and all decisions are put to a majority vote. One worker one vote. In America, we're lucky to talk people into voting once every four years. These poor compañeros, however, are eager to embrace the concept of participatory democracy.
Eventually, The Take begins to mirror our current position in America a little too closely for comfort. A presidential election looms in Argentina, and who should come crawling out from under house arrest, but former demagogue Carlos Menem. He runs his presidential campaign on a promise of the return to high economic times and the guarantee of “security.” (Like I said: scary close.)
While Menem's presidential campaign gathers steam, the workers at the auto plant struggle to realize their dream. The tension is real, palpable and punctuated by armies of riot-gear-wearing cops ready to do the government's bidding.
It's hard not to sympathize with these eloquent people who simply want to work for a living. It's hard not to be touched by their camaraderie and resolve. And it's impossible not to loathe their sleazy adversaries, like the fatcat owner of a now worker-controlled ceramics factory who oh-so-smugly informs the filmmakers that the government will just hand his bankrupt, abandoned business back to him. With The Take, Lewis and Klein have found a story of startling drama, visceral emotional impact and deeply hopeful spirit. If there's any justice in the world, The Take will serve as a wake-up call to workers and a warning bell to corporate raiders worldwide.
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