“The Take” is 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? – Roger Ebert