Andrew Tilson’s Workers Unite! Film Festival Chronicles Capitalism’s Inhumanity

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Two gentleman of the Social Enlightenment: Harry Gantz and Andrew Tilson, of American Winter and the Workers Unite! Film Festival, respectively.

Walk into the Workers Unite! Film Festival (at Cinema Village until Friday, when it moves to the Brecht Forum at Bank Street and the West Side Highway) and you enter a different world from the commercial insanity that grips much of US society today.

This is the second time the tireless Andrew Tilson with the able help of his wife Rose has mounted this exceptional tribute to the human spirit, which is now under assault from those who run late phase capitalism. Those ruthless bosses seem to value the ordinary worker and now even the middle class jobseeker less than ever before, and there are many tales of their predatory blindness in Tilson’s parade of our system’s obscenities.

Suffering of redundancy

One film chosen to illustrate this moral disaster is American Winter, a bitter saga which documents the panic and despair felt by families who until recently had no idea they would ever be unable to find work before their unemployment and savings ran out, leaving them and their children to starve if they didn’t have the blessing of food stamps and the fortitude to dwell in unheated garages or in their cars.

Sometimes it all begins when their credit rating is bust by the stratospheric cost of illness after they fail to pay their insurance premiums, or even when they do, and that failing alone will prevent them from getting a job of any kind, even at minimum wage.

The invisible millions

These and other films at this unique festival are the stories of the Second World, the people who form the invisible but growing portion of rich societies around the world who cannot ever escape poverty, because their wages aren’t high enough to allow savings. The competition of ultra cheap labor from the Third World means that once unemployed they lose the chance to get any job above minimum wage, and may not get that.

Such is the insanity of those inside the corporate fortress that they cannot see far enough outside their hermetically sealed windows to understand that paying labor decently is the only way to ensure there are enough consumers for the products they make. The health and success of the US economy has been founded on this principle for a hundred years, ever since Henry Ford made the first Model T and paid his workers enough that they could afford to buy one.

But this practicality, which argues that it is actually in the self-interest of the rich to pay the poor and the middle class more than the bare minimum of economic slavery, is ignored as boards and CEOs often pay themselves obscene sums even while their businesses founder. Meanwhile, some forty nine million Americans live below the poverty line, including over 18 million children.

It is more than economic logic which is being flouted. As the documentaries in this festival make clear, when societies are over commercialized and even art and education are increasingly matters of price rather than value it is the human spirit which suffers, and its humanitarian values are lost.

Where is the kindness?

Those values include such things as kindness and goodwill towards others, and a willingness to serve rather than exploit the weak. Despite the claims of such self satisfied Randians such as John Mackay of Whole Foods, who claim to balance their capitalistic role as owners by offering health insurance to their hard working staff, genuine communal concern is not widespread among the one per cent. Even the amiable Warren Buffett, who recognizes that his secretary shouldn’t pay a higher rate of tax than he does, merely hands over his excess riches to Bill Gates to dispense, rather than take his own time to help the needy.

The spirit of the Workers Unite! festival is precisely that kindness, however, as is pretty clear when you encounter Andrew Tilson and his wife Rose who run it. The photo above may show what we mean, since we believe that the faces of both Andrew and the filmmaker Harry Gantz, the co director of “American Winter” exhibit the kind of good humored, relaxed and gentlemanly quality we have in mind, which is becoming so hard to find among the wealthy and their highly paid managers, and other cogs in the capitalist machine.

Participants in the festival will enjoy the relief of this oasis in the City of Mammon which this spirit of kindness and concern brings, since it is the spirit in which most of the films to be shown are made, the spirit which seems to have mostly left US capitalism.

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