[Marxism] The Disappeared
giobon at comcast.net
Mon Nov 30 10:51:01 MST 2009
A Movie Review by Bonnie Weinstein
Capitalism: A Love Story, By Michael Moore
November/December 2009, Volume 9, Number 6
I saw Michael Moore’s movie, Capitalism: A Love Story on October 3,
on the occasion of my father, Nat Weinstein’s 85th birthday. Being
long-time socialists, our family was anxious to see the film. It
promised to be a unique experience to go to a movie that is actually
critical of capitalism and sympathetic to working people.
While there are many things to criticize about the film, it does
advance some very important ideas like the undemocratic character of
the profit motive; the lack of economic democracy; and the need for
working people to organize on a mass scale to demand economic
democracy along with political and social democracy and justice.
Flint, Michigan, is not only Moore’s hometown, but hometown to the
1936-37 United Automobile Workers historic sit-down strike. Its
plight today is indicative of the beating U.S. workers have taken
over the past 35 years in industries across the country.
But I decided to write a review of the movie after reading an article
entitled, “Amid Ruin of Flint, Seeing Hope in a Garden,” by Dan Barry
that appeared in the New York Times on October 19, 2009, and
described the new Flint, Michigan.
The news story is about the people left in Flint after the automobile
industry’s collapse. It focuses on some neighbors, now living in a
community pockmarked by abandoned and foreclosed-on homes and empty
lots full of trash, who start a vegetable garden and begin to clear
the empty lots and plant fruit trees. They turn their once
overcrowded community into a new urban paradise—a supposed new
beginning for Flint:
“East Piper Avenue now has its sidewalk back, along with a vegetable
garden, a grassy expanse where
a children’s playground will be built, and, close to one of those
abutting abandoned houses, a mix-and-match orchard of 18 young fruit
“‘This is a Golden Delicious tree,’ Mr. Ryan says, reading the tags
on the saplings. ‘This is a Warren pear. That’s a McIntosh. This is a
Mongolian cherry tree. . . .’
“In many ways, this garden on East Piper Avenue reflects all of
Flint, a city working hard to reinvent itself, a city so weary of
serving as the country’s default example of post-industrial decline.”
This, claims the author, is a sign of hope contrasted to the stark
reality. The article goes on:
“But Dayne Walling, the recently elected mayor, says these
developments, while exciting, tell but one side of the city’s story.
The other side: a steep decline in the tax base, an unemployment rate
hovering around 25 percent, rising healthcare and pension costs,
drastic cutbacks in municipal services, a legacy of fiscal
mismanagement—and, of course, the loss of some 70,000 jobs at General
Motors, the industry that defined Flint for nearly a century.
“The job loss, compounded by the recession, has led to an astonishing
plunge in the city’s population—to about 110,000, and falling, from
roughly 200,000 in 1960. Thousands of abandoned houses now haunt the
34-square-mile city; one in four houses is said to be vacant.
“As a result, Flint finds itself the centerpiece of a national debate
about so-called shrinking cities, in which mostly abandoned
neighborhoods might become green space, and their residents would be
encouraged to live closer to a downtown core.”
Not a thought is given to those who have been laid off and displaced—
who have disappeared from neighborhoods and communities—and what has
become of them. In fact, according to the article, Flint’s Mayor
Walling, “prefers to talk about sustainable cities, rather than
shrinking cities. He imagines the Flint of 2020 as a city of 100,000,
with a vibrant downtown surrounded by greener neighborhoods, in which
residents have doubled their lot sizes by acquiring adjacent land
where houses once stood. ... ‘We’re down, but we’re not out,’ he
says. ‘And that’s a classic American story.’”
The only thing classic about this story is the similarity to the Dust
Bowl of the 1930s, except that today’s economic collapse was not
caused by the weather but by criminal banking and corporate profit-
taking. And there is no burgeoning California farm industry looking
for slave labor; it’s giant agribusiness now. Increasingly, U.S.
agribusinesses are contracting out their labor needs to local prisons—
it’s even cheaper than slave labor and they don’t have to feed,
clothe, or even house the prisoners.
Today’s youth between the ages of 17 and 35 have grown up watching
their parents’ economic situation steadily decline. They’ve watched
millions of workers displaced by other workers in foreign lands who
earn a penny on the dollar that workers earn here. Instead of
organized labor demanding that employers pay the same pay-scale to
all workers doing equal work no matter who or where they are—a
demand, if won, that would have saved millions of well-paying union
jobs and raised the standard of living of workers around the world—
the unions advocated a futile “boycott” of foreign-made products.
The motto “Buy American” became a huge advertising campaign paid for
by the workers’ own labor organizations. The boycott was futile
because, with the dollar not going as far as it did before, workers
were forced to purchase the cheapest products, and those were the
foreign-made ones. To make matters worse for the U.S. labor force,
the foreign products such as cars and electronic equipment were
actually better than their American-made counterparts.
Moore points out that strategies like this, that are the result of
the union bureaucracy having climbed in bed with the bosses, has
resulted in the least combative labor leadership in the country’s
history and marks the collapse of organized labor “as we knew it”
from representing at its height 35 percent of the workforce in the
1950s to less than 12 percent today. And now workers are faced with a
brand-new reality. There are no jobs for newly displaced workers or
workers just entering the workforce—let alone union jobs.
According to an October 10, 2009, Wall Street Journal article by
Darrell A. Hughes and Conor Dougherty entitled, “Employers Have Fewer
Jobs to Offer,”
“There were 2.4 million job openings in August, down from 2.41
million in July and the lowest level since the Labor Department
started tracking the data in December 2000. In August 2008, there
were 4.65 million job openings.
“Job separations outpaced new hires in August. The report showed that
roughly 4.27 million people quit, retired or were laid off in
August. . . . Hiring activity remains at historic lows, with steep
declines across most sectors, including mining and logging,
construction and retail trade, according to Friday’s report [October
9, 2009]. Overall, hiring is down 28 percent since its July 2006
peak, with employers hiring 4.01 million workers in August.”
According to the Census Bureau, projections show the rate of increase
in the labor force slowing after 2012 to about 1.8 million per year.
But if you look at the graph titled “Long Road Back” for 1980 to
2007, which appears with another WSJ article entitled, “Scarred Job
Market Expected to Weigh on Economy” by Phil Izzo that appeared
October 8, 2009, you will see that the number of jobs first drops by
eight million and then slowly recovers by 2017. But over those eight
years, the civilian labor force will have increased by about 16
million persons! That is, even though the number of jobs has returned
to the precrash level, the number of people looking for jobs will
have increased by 16 million. Today, we have 15 to 20 million
unemployed. So, by the time we “recover” by the end of 2016, we’ll
have 35 million unemployed (give or take a few million here or there).
Capitalism: A Love Story movingly depicts this dismal reality faced
by working people today. Confrontations between sheriffs and the
evicted; film footage of once burgeoning factory-cities lying in
ruins; blocks of foreclosed-on homes; and ridiculously long lines for
applying for a few meager-paying jobs. All this is contrasted to the
criminality of Wall Street and its accomplice, the U.S. government.
At one point Moore, armed with canvas moneybags, tries to enter the
corporate headquarters of AIG to collect the money stolen from
taxpayers by their unscrupulous business practices. When he is denied
entry he pulls out yellow crime-scene tape, designates the building a
crime scene, and tries to make a citizen’s arrest of the Board of
The plight of workers who have lost everything because of the
trillion-dollar-bailout swindle is contrasted to the fantastic wealth
of the corporate bosses and banksters—their multiple mansions,
private jets, jewels, furs, and vacation homes.
Despite Moore’s naÃ¯ve portrayal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
as labor’s saint, and his apologies for President Obama’s not
carrying out any of his campaign promises for single-payer
healthcare, the Employee Free Choice Act, or stopping the wars, among
other things (and even with a Democratic majority in Congress), the
film made three very important pro-labor points, and made them
clearly and forcefully.
First, the capitalist profit motive is fundamentally unjust because
it leads to decisions based upon increasing the rate of profit at the
expense of working people.
Second, you can’t have political or social democracy without economic
The third and most important, the power of the majority can be
multiplied through unity and solidarity for a common cause!
In the film we follow the Republic Windows and Doors workers bravely
sitting-in at their cold Chicago factory in early December 2008. They
would not leave the factory even though company officials had
announced the factory was closing and they had all been laid off. The
workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and
Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and
severance pay and were not given the 60 days’ notice generally
required by federal law when companies make layoffs. They would not
leave the jobsite until they got what they were owed.
The film shows they gained tremendous popular support. People brought
food and warm blankets. Demonstrations in support of the workers
spread to cities across the country. Tremendous pressure was put on
politicians. Ordinary workers everywhere were outraged by the bank
bailouts in contrast to the wholesale abandonment of these hard-
working people just trying to survive.
The support and expression of solidarity with the Republic workers
who were sitting-in led to a great victory for them and for all workers.
Michael Moore went even further in his film, to illustrate how
workers’ solidarity and unity has traditionally led to workers’ victory.
The film shows clips of the great Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-37
that, because of the massive support from workers across industries,
changed the United Auto Workers from a collection of isolated locals
to a major, united union encompassing the entire U.S. auto industry.
And it set the precedent for many labor struggles to come.
His point in showing this was to underscore the message that labor,
united, has the power to win and that this is the kind of struggle we
Throughout the film, in spite of its flaws, the theme of labor
organizing and fighting back is repeated, and depicted as true
democracy—decision-making by the majority.
This is a profound idea and a real expansion of democracy, as we know
it under capitalism. It is a revolutionary idea that capitalism does
not allow this right. Workers can only claim this right if they are
organized into a massive, unified, and independent force to win it
for themselves by the sheer power of their numbers.
Unfortunately, Michael Moore implies that this kind of democracy can
exist in a kinder and gentler capitalism. He says he’s not a
socialist and that he has faith in Obama. He’s dead wrong about those
things but right about what real democracy is: majority rule.
He encourages workers not to be among the “disappeared”—defeated,
silent, and evicted from their homes, their former lives, and even
the unemployment lists because their benefits have long run out and
they still don’t have a job—like all the former workers and
homeowners who have vanished from sight from Flint, Detroit,
Cleveland, and cities across the country.
The movie is a plea for workers to come together and organize a real
fight for what they are entitled to: economic, political, and social
democracy where the majority really rules and profits are shared by all.
But of course I take exception to Moore’s faith in a kinder and
gentler capitalism. While many gains can be won through a unified
worker’s struggle—and every effort must be made to strengthen and
broaden this struggle—economic, social, and human equality and
democracy can only be realized when workers adopt a worldwide
strategy to abolish the profit system altogether and take democratic
control of the means of production into their own hands. And that
will take a socialist revolution. It is impossible to accomplish
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