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Insisting on Working

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Issue: 23 Section: Labour Geography: Latin America Argentina Topics: labour, cooperatives, film

November 6, 2004

Insisting on Working

An interview with The Take Director Avi Lewis

by Derrick O'Keefe


The Take
, directed by Avi Lewis and written by Naomi Klein
Avi Lewis is the director of The Take, a documentary about factory occupations in Argentina. The Take opened in Canadian theatres on October 29th. A longer version of this interview originally appeared in Seven Oaks Magazine (sevenoaksmag.com).

What was your initial motivation in making this film?

Avi Lewis: We set out to make a resolutely hopeful film. We wanted to find people constructing real alternatives to corporate capitalism. And we looked all over the world where people were doing interesting things, and it just happened, when we were looking, that in Argentina it was on fire--a laboratory of democracy.

You are from a very well known social democratic family here in Canada. What lessons do you think the movement in Argentina, what's depicted in the film, has for the labour movement here?

I think this film--and this movement--is a real challenge to the traditional labour movement. And an opportunity, I would add. What they do down there is they invert the traditional labour action. Instead of withholding their labour, which--in a globalized era of downsizing and closing of public services--is exactly what they want us to do, they insist on working. A strike is kind of meaningless in that context, when a factory is closing. But insisting on working is an inversion of the traditional labour action. In terms of optics it's incredible because you put the onus on the authorities to stop people from working. And in an economy where people are desperate for work, here and there, that's a very powerful symbolic statement.

There's also a real debate between how much of our energy, as activists and people who want to change the world, we put into electoral politics versus outside the electoral system; and I believe that you don't have to choose. At election time, we should get out there and try to get rid of the worst Campbells and Kleins, and Paul Martins, and try to get the slightly less bad politicians. But not think, in that way that my parents' generation and my grandfather [David Lewis] did, that we're actually going to see real change at the legislative level anytime soon, because all of their hands are tied by the same trade agreements and by the same forces of international capital. And things have gotten dramatically more globalized and more centralized in globalization since my grandpa's day. And so I think that the grassroots movements and the electoral movements have to work together, and I don't think we have to choose. But right now, where we feel the energy [is best used] is outside the political system.


The workers of the Brukman textile factory march in Buenos Aires. The Brukman factory, which was successfully taken over by its workers after the owner closed shop, is one of several hundred such factories in Argentina, which are the subject of Lewis and Klein's The Take. photo: Argentina Indymedia
There's a segment in the film where one of the central characters invites you back to film a sequel, to see the movement's progress. In terms of sequels, are you considering looking at the process in Venezuela, where you have that interplay between government and grassroots, and where there's a growing cooperative sector?

There's a huge amount of autonomous organizing in Venezuela. It's a totally different situation because the space is being created by the state. And there's a lot of debate about how much is being co-opted by the state and how much Chavez is actually creating community media and community services that are autonomously run and are not politically indebted the way the Peronist machine uses all social services to keep people in the service of The Party.

I haven't been [to Venezuela], so I wouldn't be able to weigh in; I know it's a big debate. But in terms of the sequel: I think it's being lived right now all over the world. I'm interested in seeing the sequel in Canada. I'm really interested in seeing what happens as these ideas leak into Canadian communities that are losing work and the increasing number of places where the crisis has arrived in Canada. And where people are fighting back and building things, not just protesting.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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