My Take on The Take
by C. L'Hirondelle, Apr. 2005
"We don't need more T-shirts. We don't need more mugs. We do need information, housing, food, education, health care and a few other essentials." This comment, written about the marketing of the 2004 documentary The Take on the online forum of the National Film Board, inadvertently exposes the Achilles heel of the "radical economic manifesto" of this film and, in fact, of our entire economic system.
Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis made The Take to attempt to move beyond being anti-globalization and to present "what they are for". They find inspiration in the struggle of the unemployed in Argentina to take over abandoned factories. The motto of the large network of worker cooperatives is "Occupy. Resist. Produce."
The poster for The Take, features the archetypal noble worker: a gritty, proud, strong-armed male. The film follows Freddy and his struggle to get back his dignity and a paycheck, however, he is not real hero of the movie. Poetic images of hammers and hot steel, close-ups of shining parts rolling down the assembly line, the music of the machines at work, the glowing faces of the workers at the end of the film when they finally are producing again, all mesmerize to embed the message of this film into our conscious - production is salvation.
It is an easy sell because it buys into the widely held ethic that people only have value when they are 'productive.' However, this ethic has contributed to the destruction of the planet as it never questions the harm, or benefit, of the items being produced. Thus we have the bizarre situation where anti-globalization activists Klein and Lewis cheerlead the opening of an auto-parts factory. One scene where men lined up on the factory roof triumphantly throw their hardhats in the air is reminiscent of the intro to the 70's sitcom, Laverne and Shirley with their theme song "Give us any chance, we'll take it. Read us any rule, we'll break it. We're gonna make our dreams come true. Doin' it our way."
Only in the special features of the DVD of The Take is there a tiny attempt to challenge the 'all production is good' message. Two of the film's activist crew say the factory should be used to make bicycles instead.
This leads us back to the Achilles Heel of using production as THE means for people to get the material things they need to live. Using production as the way we distribute income creates a world of forced production and forced consumption --because production without consumption equals bankruptcy. The production solution creates the consumption problem. For example, what happens when everyone has a long-lasting easy to fix bicycle? People would be in a constant war of trying to find something to produce.
The workers dearest desire may be to produce, but no one is compelled to consume things they don't want or need just to give other people jobs (e.g. "We don't need more T-shirts"). Over-production becomes even more obvious as technology creates higher productivity. For example, GM has a glut of nearly 1.2 million unsold vehicles. (March 17, 05, Globe & Mail, B3)
It is economically impossible to have Production, in all its supposed glory, as the solution to poverty. Even if the work is done without bosses as in worker cooperatives, this only makes all the people with jobs, the bosses of people without jobs --which includes children and those who care for them (usually women like Freddy's wife and mother of his children who only appear in the film only as a backdrop to Freddy's angst) as well as the elderly, the ill and often people with disabilities.
There are plenty of people in the world right now that are looking at real alternatives to the current economic system, and glorifying work for work's sake is not part of the plan. In 1997 Jim Smith in wrote "After years of fighting unsuccessfully to reverse the job drain, activists and academics are beginning to reexamine the alternative, a universal and guaranteed annual income " in his essay Separating Survival from Work.
And in 1998 the French unemployed during protests wrote: "we have no desire to work a single hour producing stupid, useless junk, and that all production needs to be reexamined from the standpoint of our real needs and desires." (Online essay "We Don't Want Full Employment, We Want Full Lives")
And in Ireland a basic income advocate writes: "[the] claim that job-creation is the appropriate strategy if we are to achieve real social inclusion simply fails to recognise the present situation where almost 60% of those living in poverty are in households headed by a person outside the labour force." (Sean Healy, CORI Justice Commission, 2003)
The same is true in South Africa where labour unions, churches and poor people's groups demand a basic income for all. Brazil has already begun to implement a basic income system -- something that 800 people came out to discuss at the most recent World Social Forum.
But Dr. James Hughes from Changesurfer Radio sums it up best. In his article "Embrace the End of Work" he makes a plea, "if liberals and the left do not re-embrace the end of work and the need to give everyone income as a right of citizenship, unconnected to employment, they will help usher in a much bleaker future of growing class polarization and widespread immiseration."
Most people loved the film The Take. It gave them hope. It made me depressed because I realized the film was so slick in its glorification of production that they have sent people running down the dead end of trying to produce our way to saving people and the planet. But we will only sentence ourselves to more misery because so many people are so in love with work, regardless of whether it is harmful or wasteful, that they would rather die than demand a guaranteed income.