When men cry: Argentinas factory takeovers

The Take Directed by Avi Lewis Written by Naomi Klein Co-production of Barna Alper Productions and the National Film Board of Canada First Run/Icarus FilmsThere’s a moment in “The Take,” a recent Canadian documentary about the Popular People’s Power Movement in Argentina, that really grabs you.

The movie starts with a quick primer of recent Argentine history, spanning the years of military dictatorship, and the economic collapse under former president Carlos Menem.

Menem helped to orchestrate the strings being pulled by U.S. corporate interests, working with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, boasting that they were creating a model for the rest of South America.

The collapse of that “model” in 2001 meant hundreds of plants sabotaged and abandoned by owners. Think of the closings of Wisconsin Steel and other mills during the 1980s in Chicago and northwest Indiana. In Argentina, as in the U.S., it was the workers who lost out. The bosses not only didn’t seem to be hurting, they found a way to profit.

In Argentina, workers occupied their shutdown plants, retooled and began production, then went through a heart-rending struggle to have the plants officially certified as worker-owned cooperatives.

We see the story of an auto parts plant, and we meet the young man elected by the workers to be their spokesperson. A tool and die maker, he has worked in the plant for 12 years. He appears to be in his early 30s and has two gorgeous kids. Straightforward and sympathetic, he looks like a million workers coming out of the gates at 3:00 every afternoon in this country.

We see him giving a report to a meeting of the cooperatives movement. In attendance are a group of women who have taken over a sewing factory, men from another plant, and people who are helping these “coops.” He has to stop and take a breath. He tries to compose himself, but tears well up in his eyes and he starts to cry.

Rather than diverting their eyes and sitting in uncomfortable silence, the others applaud and give him strength. It seems like a pretty tender moment for a bunch of hard-assed men and women who have refused to accept a future of ruin for themselves and their children.

We see a similar moment, around six months earlier, when men break into the plant and do an inventory. They decide they each have one vote, and all salaries will be equal. They elect this young man as the spokesperson. It’s a moment when you see what humans are capable of, when the potential is unleashed.

Some of the coops use profits from their plant to create a day care center for their children, paying the day care workers a living wage. They show us that there doesn’t have to be a contradiction between being consumed by the enormous task in front of you and the need to spend time with your children.

The young spokesperson has been so busy, he hasn’t stopped and grasped what he has taken on and what the workers have accomplished. When he stands up to speak six months later, he finally has a chance to feel it, and the tears pour out.

What the workers are putting into practice is completely opposite to the dog-eat-dog capitalism that has been banged into our brains. We don’t know if in six months the whole thing will fall apart, but what we can’t doubt is how much capacity humans have to give, and to act on their own behalf, and the heartbreak for those who may never get such a chance.

For a list of upcoming showings of “The Take,” visit