Thoughts on Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’ documentary film “The Take” is an exploratory look at the labor crisis and political economics of Argentina’s co-operative worker movement. The film focuses on the workers of “Forja”, an auto plant based in Buenos Aires, who struggle to claim ownership of the plant as a co-operative amidst its foreclosure. This worker-led initiative breathes new life into troubled factory work, as employees manage the warehouse into a cooperative; giving the workers full control over the finances, production and organization of the auto-plant. With no investors to please or out-of touch bosses to adhere to, the workers assert their authority; regulating daily procedures and voting on policies that directly affect them. As a co-operative, the workers and their needs are prioritized allowing them to address issue of salary, safety, health and benefits amongst one another rather than remain at the mercy of their frugal, and often exploitative, owners.
The cooperative model has become a popular alternative in Argentina, with a growing number of factory workers revitalizing the job market in desperate times of mass unemployment and national economic mismanagement. Orchestrated by the IMF and Carlos Menem, the financial misgivings that erupted by 2001 caused by neoliberal model of privatization, debt restructuring, and economic deregulation known colloquially as El Modelo (The Model). As public debt soared, so did unemployment as newly privatized companies downsized leaving the Argentine citizens without income while opening up the market to foreign control. The crisis peaked as $40 billion mysteriously vanished overnight, igniting a state-wide panic that resulted in riots when locals were locked out of their financial accounts attempting to withdraw their savings. As an economic format, El Modelo, was clearly self-serving and disastrous for the working and middle classes. Rightfully enraged, the people of Argentina sought alternative systems that would empower them through direct democracy and collectivism. If the state had no interest in justly representing its citizens, then the people would take matters into their own hands: creating job opportunities to combat outsourcing, negotiating salaries democratically to end economic exploitation, and dispersing ownership amongst the workers to ensure fair representation.
“The Take” is a prime example of collective economics, illustrating the abusive neoliberal model and the possibilities available to a worker-owned market. However, this movement is incapable of manifesting without the formal consent of local courts and supportive public policy. As depicted in the film, the “Forja” auto-workers pursue legal action to acquire control over the warehouse, and initiate the process of a legally owned co-operative. While the goals are idealistic, the processes are utterly realistic, showcasing the effort and legal savvy required to execute these socialist endeavors. It’s here that the film discusses, perhaps ironically, how the workers must legally ascertain ownership of the warehouse through legal appeals to the state. Through chronic mishandlings of the state, Argentinians found themselves economically abused- how then, can these workers put their faith in the state to grant them permission to divorce from “El Modelo”. Can the state be trusted? And if so, to what degree? So long as there is representative government we’ll always run the risk of inequality. But what’s truly remarkable about the plight of the “Forja” workers is their willingness to reform within the current system, to bring about long-standing change in the future. Both anti-globalization riots and legal social reform work in tandem to manifest concrete social change for a community in need.