The Take: Argentina and the IMF

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The Take, a documentary by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein

Jenny Haines

Having missed the very short season of this documentary at the movies, I came across it in the video shop as a DVD. It was made by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein for CBC Canada.

The Take will challenge even the most hardened capitalist. Lewis and Klein document the fortunes of Argentina over the past 50 years. Under Peron, through reliance on developing the public sector, the economy boomed.

Then along came Carlos Menem, who did the bidding of the world’s banks and the IMF. He applied what the IMF calls The Model, which means neoliberal policies, giving corporate handouts and selling off public assets.

Menem did all of this at the same time, and the result was a disaster, as Argentina fell into bankruptcy. Having engineered this calamity, the ruling class didn’t stay around to stay to share the pain. That was left to the middle and working classes as some $US40 billion in cash was spirited out of the country to avoid the currency collapse.

The working population was left to do the best they could, and many of them starved. There was no work. The factories closed down. The masses rioted. They smashed the entrances to Argentina’s banks and autotellers, trying to get to their savings. And after the riots, how were people to live?

Lewis and Klein heard about a movement that was starting amongst Argentina’s factory wokers. They were taking over their factories and running them under worker control, with no bosses.

Lewis and Klein filmed the workers of the San Martin auto parts factory as they, after two years away, moved back in and started taking over.

The co-operative Movement for the Occupation of Factories is something like socialism without the ideology. It is a movement born of desperation. The factory workers either occupy their factories and get them working again, or they and their families starve.

They call what they are doing expropriation, but don’t do it by force. In Argentina, if a boss has removed vital equipment from a factory, the workers can apply to the courts to legally occupy it. The San Martin auto parts workers applied to the courts but courts would not recognise their right to occupation, so they went to the Argentine parliament several times and eventually got legislation passed recognising their right to occupy their factory.

The documentary shows the San Martin workers meeting others who have taken over their factories and are running them very successfully without bosses.

Then the movement is threatened by the outcome of national elections. A resurgent Menem is running for re-election against a candidate called Kirchner. Menem is running on a platform of law and order and so-called economic stability.

Menem promises he will clear out the occupied factories. Kirchner’s platform is more Peronist, and he vaguely promises that the occupied factories will not be threatened. In what must be one of the best examples of mass short-term memory, Menem goes close to being elected in the first round of voting. But there is to be a second round.

In the period before the second round of voting, the newly confident bosses have the police clear out the Brukman textile factory of its female workerforce. A stand-off develops over several days but the workers are eventually beaten by a police tear gas attack.

Menem, an intensely hated figure for his part in Argentina’s collapse, withdraws from the second round of voting and Kirchner is elected. The Brukman workers evetually get their factory back, but Kirchner signs a new deal with the IMF.

In The Take Lewis and Klein take a light-handed approach to the ideology behind the occupation of the factories. The words socialist or communist are never mentioned, and the movement is spoken about as co-operativism.

The suggestion is clear: Argentina will not be the country to go through such economic collapse in the globalised eceonomy of the 21st century. Co-operativism offers a solution for the working population, whether working-class or middle class, to keep working and avoid starvation but it will always be in struggle against the ruling class.

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