Michael Moore is best known for his 1989 film Roger and Me - probably the most popular documentary of all time. His film focused on his home town Flint, Michigan and the effects that were felt there when General Motors fired 30,000 workers, at a time when the company was making record profits. His latest book, Downsize This! - Random Threats from an Unarmed American is - in parts at least - a hell of a good read especially for - as the blurb on the sleeve puts it - 'all you disillusioned, political abstainees who are working longer hours for less pay and have had enough'.
This book is a wry look at U.S. political and economic life at the end of the 20th century. It is however laden with horrifying word pictures of capitalism gone mad and its effects on the U.S. working class - starting off in the first chapter with
"We are a bunch of fools, aren't we? Today we're actually earning less than we earned in real dollars, in 1979! Millions of people are officially out of work - 7,266,000. But the Bureau of Labour Statistics and the Census Bureau estimate another 5,378,000 are also unemployed but uncounted. Another 4,500,000 more are working part-time but looking for a full-time job. And then there are the 2,520,000 Americans who are working full-time and earning a wage that is below the poverty line.
That's nearly 20 million people who cannot make the bare minimum they need to survive!"
Meanwhile, the chief executive officers, the CEOs of the top 300 companies are earning 212 times what their average worker is earning. As these CEOs fire thousands of employees, they, in turn, become even wealthier. AT&T chairman Robert Allen lays off 40,000 workers while making $16 million. Louis Gerstner of IBM fires 60,000 workers, then takes home $2.6 million. Scott Paper fires 11,000 people, merges with Kimberly-Clark, and CEO Albert Dunlap bags $100 million.
General Motors made $34 billion in profits over the past fifteen years - and eliminated over 240,000 jobs.
This is a side of American society which is completely ignored by the popular press. As Moore puts it, the American Dream has been turned into the American Bad Dream
'If you work hard, and the company prospers - you lose your job!'
Downsizing is the buzzword in corporate America - and indeed with multinational corporations in Europe and worldwide. Bigger profits with fewer workers is the aim and - with trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT and the breaking down of tariffs and borders throughout the EU - the shifting of production to countries with lower wage rates is the name of the game! Recent manifestations of downsizing in Ireland have included the closing down of Packard Electric by General Motors and the closing of Semperit Tyres in Ballyfermot.
Michael Moore is not a political activist - as he puts it the only way he could combat the downsizing tide that seems to be rising against us was to write this book.
U.S. politicians, it could be said, are an easy target for the satirist. In a chapter entitled 'Would Pat Buchanan Take a Check from Satan?' Moore asks
"Would the good men and women who hold office actually accept a contribution from a group they found repulsive, reprehensible, opposed to their stated beliefs?"
And the answer is indeed Yes. During the 1996 presidential election Patrick Buchanan the most strident ideologue of them all cashed checks sent to him by Moore from two organisations - Abortionists for Buchanan and The John Wayne Gacey Fan Club. It appeared that the pro-life and pro-family value candidate had no difficulty accepting contributions from a group of pro-abortionists and a fan club for a vicious serial killer. It could never happen in Ireland of course!!!
This is a book well worth reading. The author also has a satirical crack at racism and the stirring up by politicians of race hatred and fear of immigrants; at the stupidity of Trade Union leaders who swallow the partnership pill and sit by while the corporate bosses attack trade union members; at the pro-lifers and the illogicality of their contention that life begins at conception; at the lobbying system and the way in which corporate interests make the real decisions in the corridors of power.
These are issues which are universal. For a good laugh, read this book. But then get organised to overthrow the crazy system which it so well encapsulates.