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2004-09-20

Occupy, Resist, Produce: New Documentary "The Take" Takes on Globalization

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We spotlight a new documentary by Canadian journalists Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein called "The Take" which looks at how workers in Argentina took back their factory after the country’s spectacular economic collapse in 2001. [includes rush transcript]

This week, New York will play host to dozens of heads of state from across the globe as the United Nations General assembly convenes. Iraq’s unelected Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will be making his first visit to the country. Tomorrow, Argentina’s president Nestor Kirchner will be addressing the general assembly. In a moment Naomi Klein, in a moment we are going to be looking at your new film, which you produced with Avi Lewis, "The Take"–which looks at Argentina.

  • "The Take," excerpt of new documentary.

"The Take" premiers this week in New York at the Film Forum on Wednesday night, where it will run for 2 weeks. It already took Venice by storm, but not so much at the official Venice Film Festival, where the film was in competition. "The Take" headlined a counter-festival called "The Global Beach" that took place not far from the official film festival. It was held on a beach occupied by squatters and activists and featured films with a social-justice feature.

The motto of the film is "Occupy, Resist, Produce" and it looks at Argentina after its spectacular economic collapse in 2001 when Latin America’s most prosperous middle class finds itself in a ghost town of abandoned factories and mass unemployment. In suburban Buenos Aires, thirty unemployed auto-parts workers walk into their idle factory, roll out sleeping mats and refuse to leave. All they want is to re-start the silent machines. But, as the filmmakers say, this simple act–the take–has the power to turn the globalization debate on its head.

  • Avi Lewis, award-winning journalist. For years, he was host of Canada’s premiere debate show, Counterspin on the CBC. With Naomi Klein, he produced the new documentary The Take, which premiers in New York on Wednesday.
  • Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and author of Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate and No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. Along with Avi Lewis, she produced the new film "The Take", which premiers in New York on Wednesday.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, New York is playing host to dozens of heads of state from across the globe as the United Nations General Assembly convenes. Iraq’s unelected prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is making his first visit to the United States. On Tuesday, Argentina’s president, Nestor Kirchner will be addressing the General Assembly, as will President Bush. Naomi Klein, our guest, will be joined in a moment by her husband, Avi Lewis. Together they produced a new film. It looks at Argentina. I just want to play a clip from the beginning. This is The Take.

VOICEOVER: Welcome to the globalized ghost town. This is Argentina, it could be anywhere. Abandoned factories, cracked cement, rusting machines. But in the rubble, something’s growing. Jobs are coming back.

VOICEOVER: Actually, jobs are being taken back.

[People on the streets shouting]

VOICEOVER: The new slogan: Occupy! Resist! Produce!

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt The Take, it premiers this week in New York at the Film Forum starting Wednesday night where it will run two weeks. It’s already taken Venice by storm, but not so much at the official Venice film festival, where the film was in competition. The Take headlined a counter festival called The Global Beach that took place not far from the official festival. It was held on a beach occupied by squatters and activists and featured films with a social justice focus. The motto of the film is well what you just heard: Occupy, resist, produce. And it looks at Argentina, after its spectacular economic collapse in 2001 when Latin America’s most prosperous middle class finds itself in a ghost town of abandoned factories and mass unemployment. In suburban Buenos Aires 30 unemployed auto parts workers walk into the idle factory, roll out sleeping mats and refuse to leave. All they want is to restart the silent machines. But as the filmmakers say, the simple act, The Take, has the power to turn the globalization debate on its head. Naomi, can you transition from Iraq to Argentina.

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I guess on a very basic level, the film is an answer to the question, we know what you’re against: these wars and this economic model that is so connected to it, that is largely the reason behind the wars. But what are you for? And we felt that because Argentina, which had been the model student of the economic model, which had adopted the same policies that we have just been talking about in Iraq, the attacks on the state, the privatization of absolutely everything–Argentina is the most privatized country that I have ever seen, even the street signs are sponsored. Nothing has not been sold in this country. The results were in an absolute disaster, because they created a capitalist wild west. Money was just able to travel, just flee the country. $40 billion left the country in cash in the two weeks before the economic crisis. So, people responded in this amazing way, which was not ideological. It wasn’t like we must seize the means of production. In many ways it was similar to I think what’s driving much of the resistance in Iraq, which is just a very practical sense that if you lose your job in this economy, where 60% of the country is already living in poverty, it’s essentially a death sentence. So, workers who were told, you’re fired, you’re factory is closing, we’re moving it somewhere cheaper, they just refused to leave. We wanted actually call the film Rage for the Machines. Because what they were saying was, you can leave, but we’re going to keep the machines and keep them running. They turned the factories into democratically run worker’s cooperatives. So we follow one factory from the beginning of this process where they occupied the first day to when they started up the machines again and have a viable source of jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to play another clip from The Take. Avi Lewis also joins us on the telephone. He is coming to New York for the opening of the film on Wednesday. You’re an award winning journalist, for years host of Canada’s premier debate show, Counterspin on CBC. Can you set up this next clip for us?

AVI LEWIS: Sure. One of the things that we really believe and tried to embody in the film is the power of the specific example. It’s — you know, we wanted to take this discussion away from the abstract and from the ideology and into the — the ideas in motion. People actually implementing an alternative to a brutal set of economic circumstances. So, we visited and we describe in the film the largest of Argentina’s worker-run factories. It’s the largest ceramic tile factory in all of Latin America. It’s in Patagonia in the south of Argentina. And there are now more than 300 workers operating the factory democratically. It’s called Zanon Ceramics. This clip of the film is a description of what’s happening there.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an excerpt of Avi Lewis’ and Naomi Klein’s The Take.

AVI LEWIS: Zanon Ceramics. After two years under worker control, it’s the granddaddy of this new movement. Today, the factory is in production with 300 workers. Decisions are made in assemblies: one worker, one vote. Everyone gets exactly the same salary.

NAOMI KLEIN: It wasn’t always like this. A couple of years ago, the owner claimed that the plant was no longer profitable, that it had to be shut down. The workers refused to accept that fate. They argued that the company owed so much to the community in debts and public subsidies that it now belonged to everyone. In the Menem years, the Zanon factory had received millions in corporate welfare, and the owners still ran up huge debts. Now that his workers have restarted the machines, he’s back.

Are you going to get your factory back?

LUIS ZANON: [translated] I’m going to get it back.

NAOMI KLEIN: How are you going to do it?

LUIS ZANON: [translated] The government will give it back to me. The government will give it back to me.

AVI LEWIS: That means the workers can never rest. They keep a 24-hour guard at the factory, and everyone is equipped with a slingshot, in case the police show up.

NAOMI KLEIN: Their struggle against authority has even won them fans in one of Argentina’s biggest rock bands. Bersuit is in town, and the band is dedicating its show to the workers of Zanon.

MEMBER OF BERSUIT: [translated] What the guys in Zanon did, fighting against the police with just marbles, like when we were kids, with slingshots against real weapons, they took over the factory.

AVI LEWIS: But as we discovered walking down Main Street, Zanon’s real weapon is the support of the community.

NAOMI KLEIN: What do you think of the Zanon plant under worker control?

MAN AT COUNTER: [translated] That it works better than under the former owners, because at least people are working. The tiles are cheaper, and the future is brighter than it was under the owners. All they did was get subsidies from the state, nothing else, and they kept the money for themselves.

WOMAN AT COUNTER: [translated] All I know is that the community supports them 100 percent, because they’re not stealing, they’re not killing anyone. On the contrary, they’re working to feed their families.

BARBER: [translated] There are many companies that should be in the hands of the workers. But it seems that this is not politically convenient. That’s the real problem.

CROWD: [translated] And now that we are in production, Mr. Zanon, you can kiss our asses!

NAOMI KLEIN: What do you think of this slogan of the workers, which is “_Zanon es del pueblo_,” “Zanon is of the people”?

LUIS ZANON: [translated] What can I say? It’s not true. It’s not of the people. The investment was mine, all the work was mine. I put in everything. It can’t be “of the people.”

AVI LEWIS: You’re standing in front of $90 million worth of factory, which you and your companeros have taken over for your own benefit. We have a word for that. It’s called stealing.

RAUL GODOY: [translated] There’s another word: "expropriation." And that’s what we’re going for.

NAOMI KLEIN: The Zanon workers have gathered thousands of signatures supporting their demand for definitive expropriation. They donate tiles to local hospitals and schools.

AVI LEWIS: And Zanon’s community building has paid off. Since the workers’ takeover, they have fought off six separate eviction orders. Each time, thousands of supporters have flocked to the factory, set up defenses, and been ready to put their bodies between the machines and the police. Each time, the judges’ trustees have retreated, leaving the factory under worker control. For now, Zanon really is the property of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of The Take by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein. It’s opening this week in New York at the Film Forum. Last comments, as we move into this week, the 59th year of the General Assembly, all the heads of state coming, the president of Argentina coming, Avi Lewis.

AVI LEWIS: Argentina, what’s going on there in the social movements in the occupied factory movement is a real challenge to the Argentine state as well as to a lot of other cherished ideas. In the film, and in the movement you see a challenge to the idea of private property itself. Because people are arguing very successfully and putting into action their ideas that after millions and millions of dollars of public investment, which have been handouts to corporations and we see this all over North America and the world when companies decide to abandon communities and throw them on the scrap heap of global capitalism, people have the right to take back the productive resources, the economic resources of their communities and manage them democratically and continue to feed their families. They’re asserting that right legally, politically and they need to do it with deep community support and by building, making this political argument and building real links in their communities. In the Zanon factory, in Patagonian, that’s precisely what they have done. And every time the state tries to come in and evict them from the factory, they have thousands of people who come out and support them. There are in fact ghost towns all over North America. We’re in the midst of another wave of the deindustrialization in America. There are communities all over the country and indeed all over the world that are prime candidates for this same strategy, but beyond that, specific strategy of worker controlled businesses, this is part of a global wave of direct action and direct democracy movements who are reclaiming those things that this global economic model is stealing from them and the sense of entitlement, the demand and the direction of the action embodied in the slogan: Occupy, Resist, Produce, which is actually taken from the landless peasants’ movement (BMST) in Brazil, is really what Naomi calls a new impatience, a going directly for those things that — those basic services and those basic rights and dignities like work, that people need to survive.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi, we only have ten seconds.

NAOMI KLEIN: I think that a lot of us right now in this moment are feeling the limits of political change through the ballot box. I guess what the film is really about is another model of political change that’s a little bit deeper. So, I hope that people will take inspiration from it

AMY GOODMAN: Canadian filmmaker’s Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, the film is The Take, their website thetake.org.

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