[Marxism] The Disappeared

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Mon Nov 30 10:51:01 MST 2009


The Disappeared

A Movie Review by Bonnie Weinstein

Capitalism: A Love Story, By Michael Moore

Socialist Viewpoint
November/December 2009, Volume 9, Number 6
http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/novdec_09/novdec_09_15.html


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  
trees.

“‘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.

The problem

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).

The fix

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  
Directors.

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 naïve 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  
democracy.

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  
need today.

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  
under capitalism.



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