[OPE-L] Ebert on Lewis & Klein, _The Take_

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Wed Feb 23 2005 - 15:37:34 EST

Roger Ebert is a well-known film critic in the US.
In solidarity, Jerry

The Take
Documentary Tracks Workers Who 'Take' Chance at Revival

Film Review by
BY ROGER EBERT / February 18, 2005
The Chicago Times

As one documentary after another attacks the International Monetary Fund
and its pillaging of the Third World, I wish I knew the first thing about
global economics. If these films are as correct as they are persuasive,
international monetary policy is essentially a scheme to bankrupt smaller
nations and cast their populations into poverty, while multinational
corporations loot their assets and whisk the money away to safe havens and
the pockets of rich corporations and their friends. But that cannot be,
can it? Surely the IMF's disastrous record is the result of bad luck, not
legalized theft?

I am still haunted by "Life and Debt" (2001), a documentary explaining how
tax-free zones were established on, but not of, Jamaican soil. Behind
their barbed-wire fences, Jamaican law did not apply, workers could not
organize or strike, there were no benefits, wages were minimal and
factories exported cheap goods without any benefit to the Jamaican economy
other than subsistence wages. Meanwhile, Jamaican agriculture was
destroyed by IMF requirements that Jamaica import surplus U.S.
agricultural products, which were subsidized by U.S price supports and
dumped in Jamaica for less than local (or American) farmers could produce
them for. That destroyed the local dairy, onion and potato industries.
Jamaican bananas, which suffered from the inconvenience of not being grown
by Chiquita, were barred from all markets except England. Didn't seem
cricket, especially since Jamaican onions were so tasty.

Now here is "The Take," a Canadian documentary by Avi Lewis and Naomi
Klein, shot in Argentina, where a prosperous middle-class economy was
destroyed during 10 years of IMF policies, as enforced by President Carlos
Menem (1989-1999). Factories were closed, their assets were liquidated,
and money fled the country, sometimes literally by the truckload. After
most of it was gone, Menem closed the banks, causing panic. Today more
than half of all Argentineans live in poverty, unemployment is epidemic,
and the crime rate is scary.

In the face of this disaster, workers at several closed factories
attempted to occupy the factories, reopen them and operate them. Their
argument: The factories were subsidized in the first place by public
money, so if the owners didn't want to operate them, the workers deserved
a chance. The owners saw this differently, calling the occupations theft.
Committees of workers monitored the factories to prevent owners from
selling off machinery and other assets in defiance of the courts. And many
of the factories not only reopened, but were able to turn a profit while
producing comparable or superior goods at lower prices.

A success story? Yes, according to the Movement of Recovered Companies.
No, according to the owners and the courts. But after Menem wins his way
into a runoff election he suddenly drops out of the race, a moderate
candidate becomes president, the courts decide in favor of the occupying
workers, and the movement gains legitimacy. The film focuses on an auto
parts plant and ceramics and garment factories, which are running
efficiently under worker management.

Is this sort of thing a threat to capitalism, or a revival of it? The
factories are doing what they did before -- manufacturing goods and
employing workers -- but they are doing it for the benefit of workers and
consumers, instead of as an exercise to send profits flowing to top
management. This is classic capitalism as opposed to the management
pocket-lining system, which is essentially loot for the bosses, and bread
and beans for everybody else. Sounds refreshing to anyone who has followed
the recent tales of corporate greed in North America. Is it legal? Well,
if the factories are closed, haven't the owners abandoned their moral
right to them? Especially if the factories were built with public
subsidies in the first place?

I wearily anticipate countless e-mails advising me I am a hopelessly
idealistic dreamer, and explaining how when the rich get richer, everybody
benefits. I will forward the most inspiring of these messages to
minimum-wage workers at Wal-Mart, so they will understand why labor unions
would be bad for them, while working unpaid overtime is good for the
economy. All I know is that the ladies at the garment factory are turning
out good-looking clothes, demand is up for Zanon ceramics, and the auto
parts factory is working with a worker-controlled tractor factory to make
some good-looking machines. I think we can all agree that's better than
just sitting around.

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