Labor's lost

Michael Moore is back, fighting for the little guy.

Only a man raised in an auto town would lobby to replace the wimpy name "United States of America" with the more four-wheelin' "The Big One." Michael Moore—Flint, Michigan's favorite son and the writer/director of the popular documentary Roger and Me—is that man. He once again skewers corporate greed and embraces/rejects the odd institution that is American capitalism with his new film, The Big One.

One follows Moore on a national book tour promoting his new tome, Downsize This! As he travels across the US, Moore seizes the opportunity to peek behind the national curtain and find the small towns behind the Borders bookstores he visits. What he discovers on the blue highways is an America that has become a storefront for a corporate mob. Like Al Capone's flower shop, which had little to do with the price of zinnias, the USA looks respectable from the street, all the while cutting deals with big business in the back. Moore, however, finds something other than wiseguys and bootleggers caught in the crossfire. The casualties of these clandestine dealings are employees and ethics.

The Big One

directed by Michael Moore

now playing at the Varsity

See end of article for related links.

Muckraking his way into the front foyers of Leaf (maker of "Payday" candy bars), Pillsbury, and other corporations, Moore takes big business to task for its callous fiscal decisions. Public relations people and human resource managers are put on the spot as Moore asks about record earnings and relocated factories. Certainly these deals look good on paper and at stockholder meetings, but out by the front elevators, confronted by cameras, they're very hard to pleasantly spin.

What's most surprising about One is Moore's tone. It has changed from bitter editor of the college paper to concerned public commentator and humorist who appreciates the national forum he's been given. There's an odd sense of Moore's paternalism towards those left unemployed. He realizes that most people take a deep sense of personal pride from their work and are deeply wounded when downsized. A moment when he attempts to comfort a woman recently laid off not only seems genuine—albeit in a Michael Moore kind of way—but confirms that this rabble-rouser is sorely needed.

Agreed, the man's running a crooked game here. He plays it as a given that medical and dental benefits are some immutable, historic right. That there are no lazy workers, or whiners, or incompetent people, or malingerers. But when a company like Leaf posts excellent profits and then shuts down an entire plant and hightails it south of the border for even cheaper labor, it's hard not to side entirely with Moore.

His point of view is solidified in the most insidious moments in the film—a series of interviews with Phil Knight, chairman of Nike. It's not the fact that Knight's never been to his Indonesian sweatshops where young girls stitch together Air Jordans (they're probably happy to get the work) that's so disturbing, or that he states that Americans don't want to make shoes (he's probably half right). It's that the affable Knight is so casually oblivious to what Moore represents. In his beautiful, Docker-friendly office in Oregon, Knight's living in the best of all possible worlds. And it's here, in Knight's wood-paneled oblivion, that it becomes possible to see how the rift between owners and workers gets so big, and how things end up in wildcat strikes and scabs and child labor and shiftless, corrupt unions. The wild pendulum swing of labor versus management is on an arc of perpetual motion—and one of the only things arresting the momentum is the work of people like Michael Moore.

It's amazing that a chubby kid from Flint is the one taking on the job, but Moore does it well, he does it humorously, he does it passionately, and he does it with pride.

Related Links:

Michael Moore's page

Nike's labor practices page

The boycott Nike site

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