Director Avi Lewis and writer Naomi Klein will be online Friday, Dec. 3, at Noon ET to discuss "The Take," a documentary film about the struggle of a group of auto workers in Argentina who try to "take back" their jobs in the wake of the country's economic collapse in 2001.
Read the Review:'The Take': Labor Revolt in Argentina (Post, Dec. 3)
A transcript follows.
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Please give us a synopsis of the film.
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: Argentina experienced a severe economic crisis in 2001 and our film is about what happened next. It's the story of a group of workers whose factory was closed but who refused to be fired; occupied their factory and turned it into a co-op. This has happened in 200 factories in Argentina with very little media attention, but it's not political propaganda, it's a human story.
There's a story in today's Washington Post about Schwinn, the American bike manufacturer, which somewhat mirrors what your film explores -- jobs taken away from middle-class Americans and transferred to, in this case, China, where they are made much cheaper. Is what's going on here just something that can't be avoided in the profit-minded world of today's businesses? How can things like this be avoided?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: AL: What our film tries to show is that this process of economic globalization is not a weather system -- meaning inevitable. The reason the Schwinn factory is closing and factories around the world are closing is because of a specific set of economic policies that made it easy for corporations to move production at will. And those were political choices.
But what they've created is a feeling of inevitability -- that there's nothing that we can do. And what the workers in The Take show is that once you break out of that paralysis there are lots of alternatives. What the workers in Argentina are doing is just one alternative.
How did you both arrive at the decision to make this film? What inspired you to bring this interesting story to our attention, and how did you convince others to make this film a reality?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: AL: We set out to look for specific alternatives to what they call in Argentina as "the model," which many people here call the Washington consensus. We had been to all the big protests against the IMF and the World Trade Organization and like many people we were hungry for concrete alternatives and politics that go beyond protest. What's happening in Argentina is exactly that. The film is a portrait of people who are building something: a democratic local economy. And that's the story we wanted to share.
Are there actors in the film or is it all strict documentary?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: It's all documentary. There are no actors. It's verite. We were in Argentina for eight months which meant that we were able to follow the people in our film through very dramatic ups and downs through police repression to joyous celebration. So we didn't need actors.
New York, N.Y.:
Dear Ms. Klein,
Even being an avowed capitalist, I have recently read your book "No Logo" and watched your movie. Although I agree with your commentary on the social impact of constant bombarding of marketing and its effects on our culture, I cannot help but strongly disagree with your rejection of the "neo-liberal" economic model used by many countries. Even though the free-trade model pushed by the U.S. isn't perfect, wouldn't you agree that it is pretty damn good? How do you counter against opening up economies to freer trade when in the past 50 years the countries that opened up their countries the most (e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, Chile, and more recently China and India) have shown the greatest rate of growth, and, more importantly, a greater reduction in poverty than comparative countries?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: There's no doubt that this economic model leads to economic growth but it is not at all clear that that growth of GDP (Growth Domestic Product) is translating into poverty eradication.
China is a bad example. It has not adopted these policies. It is a highly regulated state. Argentina did adopt these policies. It was the model student of the International Monetary Fund, but in Argentina high rates of growth and profit were accompanied by a massive unemployment crisis and greater poverty.
What is it about documentaries now? There are so many of them coming out. They used to be box office death. Now it's different. What made things change?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: I think a lot of it has to do with the failure of television news. It's almost a return to the newsreels where people would go to the cinema to find out what was going on in the war. People have a sense that they're not getting the whole story from mainstream news and they're going to the movies to fill the gap.
AL: I also think that when people go to a movie theater they want to be taken to some place new and surprising and in good documentaries the filmmakers don't know what's going to happen next when they're shooting the film. That sense of excitement and drama is shared in a collective experience by the audience. It's the real reality TV.
Did you receive any resistance from the government in Argentina while you were filming?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: AL: No. We were in Argentina is the period of a federal election campaign and that election campaign is the backdrop to the story in the film. There's a strong contrast between the circus and theater of democracy in the elections and the shop floor democracy in the movement. So the political class was quite distracted with their power struggles while the protagonists in the film were building a new direct democracy in their workplaces. So a lot of amazing social progress is taking place below the radar.
In the last two weeks, there have been some very important laws passed in Argentina that recognize the economic contribution of the worker-run factories. So after the fact the government is realizing that these folks are creating jobs and creating hope in the midst of an economic crisis.
Is this film about people losing jobs because of outsourcing? Did somebody decide to take business elsewhere? How do the workers in the film fare with this? Do they revolt?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: Yes, it a film about workers losing jobs to outsourcing among other reasons. It's workers whose bosses have decided that they can produce more profitably elsewhere and they decide to close the plant. The workers then stage the reverse of a strike. During a strike, workers withhold their labor and block entry the plant; in this case, it's the opposite. Rather than locking themselves out, the workers lock themselves in. Rather than refuse to work, they refuse to stop working. They keep the machines running, and they say to their owner, "You can leave but we're keeping the machines."
After this direct action the lawyers from the movement then go to court and make a legal case that these companies have received so much public money in direct subsidies and tax breaks that the community has a right to the machines.
Have you gotten any feedback from the IMF/World Bank on the film or the ideas that the film presents. Did the workers get any help from them?
THanks for making the film, I can't wait to see it.
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: AL: The IMF has a policy that it does not grant interviews "in country." So there's a scene in the film where we wait outside the Sheraton Hotel until we finally spot an IMF official coming out. And we try to ask him some questions. But what the workers in Argentina say is that they feel that the IMF policies are directly responsible for the economic crisis that they're in. And they're very frustrated that their country can be transformed by an institution which is not accountable to the people.
But the IMF continues to insist that the crisis in Argentina was because their policies were not implemented strongly enough and that the solution would have been more privatization and more deregulation. But it's clear that people in Argentina just won't accept that now.
NK: The IMF also blames the problems in Argentina on corrupt politicians but in Argentina, most people see a clear connection between the IMF policies and political corruption because deregulation makes theft easy and rapid-fire privatization with no regulation is another golden opportunity for graft.
You are the best!; Your reporting on the ideology of Iraqi reconstruction and the James Baker scandal should win you a Pulitzer!;
Enough sychophantism -- when is the film going to be played in Chicago?
P.S. I was in an office of a senior executive of a major American chain restaurant corporation and noticed that this person had a copy of "No Logo" on his bookshelf!; I thought that was pretty interesting -- you are popular with those you critique, apparently!;
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: NK: Thank you! I guess we all agree that we should know our enemies. The film is opening in Chicago and you can get the details at www.thetake.org.
You are from a very well known social democratic family in Canada. What lessons do you think the movement in Argentina, what's depicted in the film, has for the labour movement here?
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein: AL: That's a wonderful question. As Naomi said earlier, the tactic of the workers in our film is a direct challenge -- not only to unions but to the fundamental act of labor resistance. When they're closing your factory, you can't withhold your labor -- that's what they want you to do. By insisting on working, the workers in Argentina are turning the model of the strike on its head.
But the movement is also a challenge to people like my family who have committed to the model of social change through the electoral system. We almost called the film, "Our Dreams Don't Fit On Your Ballots" -- a slogan from one of the social movements in Argentina. Because we feel that this movement is a direct response to the poverty of our political choices in the electoral system.
So what they're doing is building a concrete economic alternative outside electoral politics and they are not successfully forcing the politicians to acknowledge that they're creating jobs and a future where both the market and the government have failed.