Michael Moore’s New Film Galvanizes AFL-CIO

by Randy Shaw on September 15, 2009

Demonstrating his passionate commitment to progressive change and single payer health care, Michael Moore held the U.S. premiere of his new film, Capitalism, A Love Story, last night in Pittsburgh in conjunction with the AFL-CIO national convention. Sponsored by the National Nurses Organizing Committee and other unions, Moore gave the day’s most powerful speech at the Convention Center before leading a march through the streets of Pittsburgh accompanied by labor and health care activists. The march ended at the movie theater, when Moore spoke again to the now roaring crowd. The film, which will be available in theaters nationwide on October 2, fulfills Moore’s claim that it represents the fruition of his twenty-year film career. Whereas Sicko exposed the conflict between Americans perception of caring for others and the lack of a national health care system, Capitalism, A Love Story challenges our transformation of the “free enterprise” to holy status. This is not only Moore’s best film, but it is the most politically incendiary film put on the American screen in memory. Most important, Moore’s film will prove an excellent organizing tool for unions and other progressive groups, and can be a catalyst for change.

When Michael Moore began speaking in the early evening yesterday, the first full day of the AFL-CIO convention had finished with little excitement or breaking news. Preceded by the charismatic Cecil Roberts, International President of the United Mine Workers, Moore unleashed a powerful and succinct assessment of the nation’s “wrong turn” since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, and its positive shift in electing Barack Obama last November.

Moore’s talk was part of an event conceived by National Nurses Organizing Committee leader Rose Ann DeMoro to bolster the cause of single payer health care. And while Moore and union leaders backed President Obama’s public option plan, they made it clear that the fight for single payer — and for a state option within the universal health plan — would go on.

After Moore roused the crowd, he and single payer advocates led a march through the streets of Pittsburgh. The marchers chanted slogans and had a festive time as they travelled the many blocks from the convention center to the theater.

Upon arrival, Moore was presented with a Steelers T-shirt by Steelworkers head Leo Gerard and gave a brief talk introducing the film. But for all of his previewing of what the film was about, nobody could have predicted that Moore could have gotten away with making a major studio film that so explicitly and expressly condemns the capitalist system as practiced in the United States.

Audience Loves Moore’s Love Story

I don’t need a phone survey or Internet poll to know that the audience was wild about Moore’s film: the audience was often so overcome with laughter, applause and sheer excitement that it often broke into massive applause, with nobody complaining about the drowning out of dialogue due to the clapping.

The film is nothing short of an indictment of a society that allows corporations to invest in their workers’ deaths (and reap profits from same!), lays off workers regardless of human cost, and where the best and brightest head to investment banking and private profits rather than work for the common good, as occurred in the days of Dr. Jonas Salk, who never sought to patent or profit from his polio vaccine.

The fall of Rome, foreclosures, predatory lending, the burdens on the rich under 90% top tax brackets for the wealthy — these are but a few of Moore’s always brilliant and thought-provoking look at a society where the top 1% owns as much as the bottom 90% of the population combined.

Who are the films heroes? Start with Ohio Congressmember Marcy Kaptur, the workers of Republic Windows and Doors, and former President Franklin Roosevelt.

The villains? As someone who is the same age as Moore, and who once had him over to my house to show a slide show on immoral U.S. military intervention in Central America, I share his acute distaste for Ronald Reagan. In fact, I can never get enough of Ronald Reagan being brought to justice.

And Michael Moore accomplishes this mission. This is the harshest and clearest indictment of Reagan that has ever appeared in a major studio film. In fact, Reagan-haters might need to see it multiple times — it’s that much fun.

Bankers, Goldman Sachs, Countrywide and the financial industry are also big villains, but Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd may despise the film more than anyone. Dodd got a clean bill of health from Congressional investigators over his Countrywide loans, but Judge Moore is not so forgiving — nor, most likely, will be the voters in his state who see this film.

An Organizing Vehicle

Moore’s new film is clearly designed as both a wake-up call and organizing vehicle. I cannot stress more strongly the importance of groups reserving entire theaters to see this film.

This is not a film you want to see with a quiet crowd in the standard multi-plex. This is a movie where you want to be with people who will be yelling at the screen, booing George W. Bush whenever he appears — and as brilliant as Moore is on Reagan, he is just as good on Bush — and cheering heroes like Kaptur and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Nobody will view the financial freefall that occurred nearly one year ago today the same way after viewing this film. Moore captures the national media hysterics perfectly, analogizing it to the fear tactics spawned by 9/11.

Imagine if this harsh critique of capitalism’s moral groundings filled theaters across the nation throughout October. Moore has done his part to help build a groundswell of resistance; now it’s activists’ job to take advantage.

Moore and Obama

While Moore has generated the most convention excitement so far — and his events technically occurred outside the formal schedule — that will change today when President Barack Obama speaks in the convention center.

Moore is a great fan of Obama’s, and actually shed a tear while voting for President last November. His film captures the excitement of Obama’s victory, and shows him to be a counterpoint to the Wall Street domination of the White House that Moore traces to the Reagan years.

Yet Moore shows Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Economic Advisor Larry Summers to both be part of the culture of greed that has damaged the nation. His film labels the former as incompetent, and the latter as a greedy fiscal charlatan.

In a question session following the film, Moore was asked to respond why a President he believes is independent of Wall Street would pick those two as his top finance guys. Moore responded that he wanted to expose Obama’s reliance on these questionable characters, but that he still trusted that, when forced to choose between Wall Street and the people, Obama would make the right choice.

This savvy analysis reflects the views of most of those with whom I spoke at the convention. From health care to EFCA, Obama’s labor base still trusts him to do the right thing.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.

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