Filmmaker Michael Moore tells corporate America "Downsize This!"
Transcribed by Howard Rosenfeld
Edited by Jenny Brown
Gainesville was the last stop on Michael Moore's 48-city booksigning tour this fall. Moore is the writer and director of the award-winning film, "Roger and Me," an irreverent portrait of the devastation wrought by GM on his hometown, Flint, Michigan. Moore also directs TV Nation, an Emmy-award winning show which keeps getting bumped around the airwaves due to its controversial content. A near-capacity crowd of 1,300 people came out to the Performing Arts Center to hear his talk on November 26.
In 1996 Moore wrote Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American because, he said, "It looked like we weren't going to get TV Nation back on. They were not going to put us on during an election year." A staunch union advocate and supporter of working class struggles, Moore says that when he went to publishers to try to get his book published, they said, "Fine, we're interested in this, but you're not going to do 1/100 of what Rush Limbaugh does."
Moore said to them, "You know, I think you're wrong. You've completely misread the direction of the country. I know where people are at. And I'm going to prove you're wrong." He noted, "They still paid me 1/100 of what they pay Rush Limbaugh." What started off as a 10-city book tour mushroomed to 48 cities. Many bookstores set records in number of books sold, and in a number of cases the books sold out because the publisher "doesn't think that America really is in "our" direction."
Moore said the turnout in Gainesville was larger than average, but not atypical. "[People] are not really with the right wing. They're not with the Gingriches of this world. They're not even with the Democrats. There's a whole new majority mood in this country, people who are really pissed off with what's going on, who've seen their lives ruined by corporate America and are looking for some sort of direction."
In Gainesville, Moore spoke and took questions for over two hours, showed clips of parts of TV Nation censored from TV, and finished up with two hours of booksigning. What follows are some portions of his talk:
What going on here, anyways, in Gainesville? What's the big issue? They want to privatize the jail; oh, brilliant idea! I got a chapter on this in the book called Mike's Penal Systems...
Do you realize that major corporations are going in and not only privatizing these prisons or building private prisons but they are going into public prisons and getting public prisons to give them their labor, their prisoners, to do work for them? For instance, when you call TWA at certain times of the day, do you realize, for reservations, that you are talking to an inmate in Ventura, California who is making that reservation for you? Think about it next time you start complaining about your frequent flier miles, right? And Guido's on the other line, taking down your address . . .OK . . .ten years later, knock on the door, "Yeah, I'm Guido. Remember when you were shitting on me for those frequent flier miles? Well, fly this!"
In Colorado, if you get a call at 9 o'clock at night from AT&T trying to convince you to switch from MCI, that's a prisoner in a prison in Colorado! And it goes on and on and on. Microsoft, Spalding golf balls, packaged in prisons in Hawaii. We talk about the slave labor in China, we don't want that stuff coming into this country. We got it going on right now!
What is going on? They pay these prisoners ten cents to two dollars an hour. Now some people say, that's good, it gives them something to do. But that's not why they're doing it. They're doing it to throw you out of work, to throw your brothers and sisters out of work. So they can get this work done for ten cents an hour.
You know, and I proposed in the book, hey, let's just get on with it man, why don't we just lay off everybody in America. Let's just close down all the factories, just throw everybody out on the street, right? A good number of them will turn to crime in order to survive. Then we can turn those old factories into prisons, throw them back into those factories. Now as prisoners, they're already trained to do the work, right? And pay them ten cents an hour. Why pay them this fifteen dollars an hour now, it's crazy! Think of all the money that could be made! Think of the stock market.
Hey, a record day again today, every day, since the election, Wall Street's happy that Clinton got elected, you get it yet? They've been throwing a party for the last three weeks. It broke 6,000, you know why it broke 6,000? On that day, because the federal government announced that 40,000 people in America had lost their jobs last month, and according to CNN and I quote, "The news electrified Wall Street." Electrified Wall Street. What's going on here, man? (An audience member yells, "Class war!") That is what's going on, isn't it. It's a war against us. GM made seven billion dollars last year, a record profit year. And they just laid off another 3,000 people in my hometown of Flint. Now why would you lay people off at a time when you are making a record profit, when you are making seven billion? So you can make 7.1 billion, right? Business students? Are you here? I hope you're here. There's a question and answer period coming up. I want to hear someone explain this to me. You know, it just doesn't make any sense and we let them get away with this.
Every time I fly here or to wherever I am going, every day on this tour, I get stuck next to some businessman on the plane, right? And inevitably, he looks over at me and he recognizes me. "Hey, you're that guy. Roger Moore, right? Yeah. You made that movie. What do you have against profit, huh? Company's got a responsibility to make as much money as it can and return it to the shareholders. The shareholders, Mike! That's our system!" And I always say to the guy, You know what? That's not our system. Our system's a democracy. I read the United States Constitution. I've not once seen the word shareholder in that document. It doesn't appear anywhere! Our responsibility as citizens is not to make the shareholders as much money as we can for them. The word people is in that document, "Of, by and for the people." That's there. Not the shareholders.
"Well, a company has a right to do whatever it can to make a profit, if it wants to close down that factory in Flint and move it to Tijuana, so be it! It can do that!" No it can't. It has no right to do that. "What do you mean? You're going to get in the way of the free market, free enterprise." They always say that, right? They get us saying it too. They don't believe in it. They don't believe in it at all. They hate free enterprise, they hate the free market, they hate competition. They want to kill the competition, they want to buy out the competition. They want to merge with the competition. They would be happy if they were the only car company. That's their nirvana...
Now, if a company has a right to do whatever it wants to do to make a profit, why don't we let General Motors sell crack? They could make a huge profit selling crack. (Well, the CIA is selling the crack. Where are the Republicans when you want them to privatize something? What is the government doing selling crack, huh? Have you been following the story?) Actually, it wouldn't be a bad idea to let GM sell crack because they are so stupid, they would mismanage it so poorly, we'd be rid of crack within five years. Seriously, if we just turn all the crack over to GM, they would screw it up. This is the company that still cannot figure out how to put the door key and the ignition key together as one key! Right?
We don't let them sell crack because we as a society have determined that it hurts people, it destroys communities. So we make it illegal. That's why we don't let them sell child pornography. They could make a profit selling child pornography. Why don't we let them sell child pornography? Because it hurts people. Right? Well, when you're making a record profit of seven billion dollars and you lay off 3,000 people and you destroy those families, you destroy their lives. That's hurting people and that should be illegal. It is immoral and it should be illegal. (applause)
"You can't do that, you can't do that. You can't pass a law like that." Oh, really? Yes we can. It's a democracy. We can pass any damn law we want. Let me try that again. It's a DEMOCRACY. We can pass, citizens, any damn law we want as long as it fits into our constitution, we can pass any damn law we want. I know. We are so demoralized, we feel like, oh jeez, we can't do anything, we can't rock the boat, we can't fight city hall, we can't undo what has been done, and this is not true. This is exactly how they want us feeling. But it's not true.
Congress passed a law two months ago making it illegal for a company to move from Florida, or any other state, to Libya. It's a law now. Clinton signed a law. We pass these laws all the time, right? Well, why is that? Well, because the government has decided that Libya is a terrorist state. It hurts American people, so we prohibit American businesses from participating in something that hurts American people. We actually have that as an ethic in our government. Well, let me ask you something. Who do you think tonight in Flint, Michigan the people are more afraid of? Muhammar Quadafi or General Motors? Who's creating real terror in their lives? Libya? Or AT&T?
I opened my book with two photographs side-by-side. One of the bombedout building in Oklahoma City and the other of a building that General Motors was blowing up in Flint this year. And if you look at the two photographs without looking at the captions, you literally cannot tell which one is the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and which one is the building in Flint. And I write above that this question: "What is terrorism?"
What is terrorism? There is no doubt that when you park a Ryder truck in front of a building and blow it up and kill 168 people, that's an act of terrorism and that should be severely punished. But what do you call it when a company politely removes the people from the building first and then blows it up? And in the ensuing years, the people that used to work in that building, some of them will commit suicide, others will die from spousal abuse, more of them will die a longer and slower death from drugs and alcoholism because their life has been turned upside-down and shoved into some dark empty hole. We don't call the actions of a company murder, do we? We don't call it terrorism, do we? But that's what it is. It is an act of terrorism.
We live in a country now where millions of Americans go from day-to-day and week-to-week, not knowing if they're going to have a job, not knowing how they're going to pay the bills. People are working longer hours for less pay, less benefits, no job security. And that's just the people who work here at the University of Florida. (Laughter and applause.) That's the America in which we live. And where's the American dream? For you young people here, people who are going to college. What do you think you're going to do when you get out of here? You came here, really, to just put off the inevitable, didn't you? The American dream used to be if you worked hard and a company prospered, you prospered. That was the little system they set up for us here. Now it's, you work hard, the company prospers, you lose your job.
On this tour, I ended up passing through this town in southern Illinois called Centralia. Did you ever hear of this town, Centralia? Yeah? It's the town that invented the Pay Day candy bar. The families there have made Pay Day candy bars for 68 years. When the factory burned down in the 80's, the city gave Pay Day free land to build a new factory and sold city bonds to help them re-build. Even though they're members of the Teamsters Union, the people who work at Pay Day have never once gone out on strike in 68 years. Never had a walk-out. Can't even remember the last time they filed a grievance. On the outskirts of town, there's a sign that says, "Every day is pay day in Centralia." Last month was their last pay day. They closed the factory down. This factory made a profit of $20 million last year.
I went into the factory and I asked the plant manager, "Why would you close this down at a time when you're making a profit and throw this town out of work?" And he said, "Well Mike, we made $20 million last year, but if we'd made $40 million before, we'd have shut it down even sooner." Because the large international food conglomerate that bought Pay Day a few years ago bought it with the intention of selling it. They want to make their investment back as quickly as possible and then sell it for a profit. And to show that they were lean and mean, they wanted to close down a few factories and tighten up and show that they can really sell this thing with fewer workers. I said, if you'd have made $40 million, you would have shut down sooner, I said, is the opposite true? If the workers here had done a lousy job and you'd only made a profit last year of $100,000... and he finished the sentence for me, he said, "That's right, this factory would be open another ten years because they'd have to keep it open to make their investment back." What's the lesson here, folks? To the average worker? Slack off! That's right. Don't do a good job. If you do a good job and the company profits, you're gonna be out of a job. Why bother getting up in the morning? Something is wrong here. Something is seriously wrong.
When I went to Chicago two weeks later, I decided to go to the world headquarters of the Pay Day company, Leaf, that owns them and ... I brought them one of those oversized Ed McMahon checks like we used to have on TV Nation. I brought them a check for 65 cents, I wanted to buy the last Pay Day candy bar made in Centralia. And they immediately started whaling on me and my cameraman. We've been making a documentary of this tour and they pushed us out the door and the guy said, "Now just stand out there and wait there and we'll, the PR person will come down and speak to you."
So we're waiting out there for like twenty minutes and suddenly we hear sirens. The police are coming. They get out of the police cars and they start to arrest me. Hey, wait a minute! You can't arrest me! I'm on a book-tour! I'm an author now. You can't arrest me, I'm an author. I've been on C-SPAN twice! He starts reading me my rights. Hey wait a minute. And the security guy from Leaf is going, "We told them to leave, it's private property, we told them to leave and they wouldn't leave! They're trespassing! Arrest 'em! Arrest 'em!" I'm going, "You did not tell us to leave, you told us to actually come out here and wait here till the PR person . . ." [The security guy said] "It's a lie, that's a lie . . ." You see the dumb fuck had forgotten I had the videotape running the whole time. So, I said, "Officer, let's go to the tape!" And they put the handcuffs away and Mike escaped the paddywagon one more time.
It's usually easier when I've got that 7-foot corporate crime-fighting chicken with me, I'll tell you. For those of you who don't know, Crackers is our mascot on TV Nation, the corporate crime-fighting chicken. He's like McGruff, the crime dog, except McGruff only handles street crime. And we all know, from reading Downsize This!, that corporate crime costs us a lot more money each year than street crime.
Do you realize that? Four times as much each year in corporate fraud that we lose in all burglaries combined. Twice as many deaths on the job due to unsafe working conditions as all handgun murders combined. But on the 11 o'clock news tonight in Gainesville, we won't see that story about that person who got hurt on the job or that white-collar criminal being hauled away. We'll just watch another version of some Hispanic or black man being pulled away for committing some, what they call, a crime. That's what we're used to. That's the word crime. That's what it means. Just like welfare. Single mother in a ghetto with all those kids. Even though we spend three times as much money every year on corporate welfare than we do on social welfare. 170 billion dollars a year on corporate welfare! Do you realize this? (applause)
We want to beat up on the single mother though, huh? Oh boy, don't you know guys, you look like wimps and weenies when you do that? You look like you are chickenshit to go after the real welfare mothers which are the CEOs of these companies that are taking all this free cash from us for things they can afford themselves. You know this! This is true right here in Florida! How many times has the state of Florida just bent over backwards, bought land, built roads, 12-year tax abatements, etc., etc. You know what I'm talking about! These people can afford this stuff for themselves. You must have local examples of this here. Right? (Cries from the audience.) Yes, all of those!
Pillsbury got $11 million of your tax money to help them promote the Pillsbury Dough Boy in Third World countries. McDonald's got a million and a half dollars of your tax money to promote Chicken McNuggets in Singapore. Exxon got to claim a $300 million dollar tax deduction for cleaning up their own oil spill in Alaska. They actually made money the year that they polluted the environment in Alaska. This is sick! When Clinton says, "We're going to end welfare as we know it!" Oh, really? You really want to end welfare as we know it? Let's get the big boys off the dole then. Because I'll tell you something. Each year now, we're racking up 109 billion deficit each year... If we got rid of corporate welfare (this is Mike balances the budget here in Gainesville, a very simple solution) get rid of the 170 billion dollars in corporate welfare, we not only balance the budget, we have a 60 billion dollar surplus. Right there! What's wrong with that? Oh, no, let's take it away from the single mother, right? Each of us spends an average of $1.14 a day out of our paycheck for social welfare, $1.14, that's what it's costing you. And now we're going to drop them after two years, boom! Go get your own. So, in two years folks, we're going to have millions of Americans denied food, shelter, and clothing.
Now, has anyone stopped to take a look at the social chaos and calamity that's going to occur when that happens? And I appeal to the more conservative members of this audience tonight. That, if you do this, if you really take away the safety net, it is your ass. This is your town. It isn't just going to be St. Petersburg, folks. Now, I don't want that to happen. That's not the America I want to live in. But that's what's going to happen. Because human beings get kind of funny when they don't have food, shelter and clothing. They act a little crazy sometimes, when they don't get that food, shelter and clothing.
I'm asking you to support me on this, my conservative friends here. Not for my liberal, bleeding-heart, do-gooder reasons. I'm appealing to your own selfish interest. It's better for you. It saves your ass. What are the chances that the person living next door to you, if they're earning $30-40 thousand a year, what are the chances that they're going to break into your house when you're gone and steal your color TV? Zero, thank you, unless they're a kleptomaniac, right? Zero. So why, my conservative friends, would you not support full employment at a livable wage? It's for you, it's to protect your ass! Your color TV! Your Toyota that you don't want carjacked out here on the streets! Just do it for those reasons! Or maybe you'll just go live in a gated community, right? And everything will be fine.
QUESTION: I was wondering if there was anything in your book about the garment industry, the sneaker industry, that is now all overseas, making what we wear because they can produce much cheaper, they don't have minimum wage, OSHA, worker's comp, things like that?
MOORE: Well, when I was on this tour, when I went to Portland, Oregon, I challenged Phil Knight, the chairman of Nike, to meet with me and he did on camera for an hour. And I asked him why he was making shoes in Indonesia with twelve year olds. And he said, "They're not twelve, they're fourteen!" And I felt so much better. So I whipped out two round trip tickets to Indonesia, and I said, Phil, Have you ever seen your sweatshops? And he said no, I've never been over there. His own shoe factories. I said, I've got two tickets on the next flight to Indonesia from Portland. Let's go. And, he was pretty stunned by this. He said, well, I can't go right now. And he stumbled around and he said, but I'll go in January with you. I said, you'll commit to this now, because don't jerk my chain, man, I'm from Flint. I'm from the other end of I-75. He goes no, I'll do it, I'll go with you. So right now, and I've been in touch with his people, they've told me he's serious and he's going to go over there with me and I'm going to show him these sweatshops. Hmmm. . . I'm going to film it, I'm going to get him to stop using these kids, that's what I'm going to do. . . .
You know, you can get away with a lot in this world if you just kind of turn the TV off and go do something, you know. I got elected to the school board when I was eighteen. I ran on a very simple platform: fire the principal. I was a senior in high school, I turned eighteen, 18-year-olds had just been given the right to vote, and I ran on the platform, "Fire the principal." I won and nine months later, he was fired, and I learned at a very early age that you can accomplish a lot politically by not doing a whole hell of a lot. So, to those of you who are not political activists in the audience and I'm telling you you don't have to give up your day job to become a citizen. You know, to participate in our democracy, seriously, I want to encourage you. Especially people in the balcony; I know why you're sitting up there! You're like me. You always come late, you know, you couldn't sit down here, you had to sit up there. This is where I always sit, I know the feeling. Even when you come late, you can accomplish something, you can affect change in our society. Let's support the people in the balcony, OK? (applause)
QUESTION: Chrysler Corporation had a really good year and have just broken ground for a brand new corporate headquarters. I'm wondering if we taxpayers are ever going to get back the money we paid to bail them out a while back?
MOORE: Yeah, kind of like, you mean like that student loan thing? You know like, where you get the money to go to school and you gotta pay it back for the next twenty years? Yeah, well it doesn't work like that for corporations. Give them a student loan--never have to pay it back. Now they're making a profit of 2, 3, 4 billion dollars a year, Chrysler is. Don't have to give any of it back, don't have to hire back any of the workers. It's a great system.
QUESTION: I was just curious about your reflections about life on the road on a book tour at a time when the mega-stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders are putting independent booksellers out of business.
MOORE: Of the 48 cities I've been to, 41 have been independent bookstores and the others have been in chain stores, a couple of which have been Borders, which I wrote a little column in the Nation a couple of weeks ago, talking about how the troubles I've had with . . . you don't have a Borders down here, do you? It's a big chain, it's based in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I went, on the second day of my tour to the Philadelphia Borders and there was a picket line out front. They had fired a worker there who had tried to organize a union. So I would not cross the picket line. (applause)
[They said] 'But, Mike, you have books to sell.' So, I suggested a solution which was how about if we let the protesters inside, let's bring the picket inside and we'll give them the microphone and we'll let them have their say. And the Borders people said, OK, you can do that. So the protesters all came inside and it was kind of a cool event. But the Borders executives back in Ann Arbor weren't too happy with it so five days later I was scheduled to speak at the Borders at the World Trade Center in New York, when I got there I was told that my microphone was being taken away from me, I could not open my mouth, I could sign books, shut up and go home, because of the ruckus I caused in Philly. They then went out and told the assembled hundreds there that the fire marshall said there were too many people in the store and they had to go into a single file and quickly sign the books and leave. When I heard that, I stepped in front of the manager and said "Well, you're not being told the truth" to the crowd. "I've been told I've not been allowed to speak because what I did in support of the union in Philadelphia." And from that point on it went downhill.
Two weeks ago, I was invited down by the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival to have a book signing at a local bookstore and a few days before I'm to go there, I get a call from the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival saying that your book signing has been canceled by the bookstore. I said, "Gee, let me guess, what was the name of the bookstore?" And he said, Borders. And he said, so you know about this? He said the people there got a directive from corporate headquarters that you're not allowed to speak at any Borders store nationwide. So at this point, I decided to go public with it and write about this kind of censorship that goes on all the time, knowing full well that would be the end of me as far as Borders is concerned. And probably threatening to Barnes & Noble and every other chain because none of them want the union in there.
In the last four weeks two Borders stores have, well, one has already voted in the union, three more are going to have their votes, they've signed enough cards and going to have their votes in the next two weeks. And, you probably won't see my next book in a Borders bookstore. But, it's funny, I just read the letter that's going to be in the Nation next week that the Borders president wrote to them, saying "We're just shocked that Michael would be saying these things about us, we bought more copies of his book than any other chain." Which is true. But, like, he doesn't get it. It's like, I should be grateful. We bought more copies of his book, so why would he say these things? Well, because I'm going to tell the truth, I don't care how many copies you buy, I can't be bought! You don't understand this, you know? I never made more than $15,000 a year till Roger & Me came out. I lived on that until I was 35 years old. I'm too far gone, you can't get me. (applause) So now, I make too much money and I give a third to fifty percent of it away. I give away about $10,000 a month to various social action groups and independent filmmakers and people raising hell all over the country.
I thought when I got my first check from "Roger & Me" from Warner Brothers, this is a very dangerous thing to do, to give a guy like me a lot of money, I'm pretty happy with my three pairs of blue jeans and my ball caps, I don't need a whole hell of a lot, so I'm gonna give a lot of this away to all the wrong people.
QUESTION: ...The reason why I got up is because I'm a union organizer. I work with the UAW and I know there's a lot of people in here who've never been in a union before. This is a right-to-work state and it's very tough down here. But, I'm also a union officer and I know how hard these words are for people to say but as a fellow union brother who's been on strike for two years at one time and to hear you talk about things you did... People just don't understand when they say, well, I wouldn't cross that picket line. You have no idea until you've been there what that means. And I just wanted to say thank you.
MOORE: Sixty years ago on December 30th, my uncle, Luverne, and hundreds of other people in Flint sat down on the job in the GM factories and would not leave the factories for 44 days in the dead of winter. As the result of that action, GM became the first corporation that was forced to recognize the union in this country and had to sign a contract with the UAW and as a result of that action in Flint, Michigan, all of us benefited, union and nonunion alike. Until that winter in Flint, Michigan... it had been rich and poor. And for the first time, the poor would be able to have enough money to own property, to have a house, to send their kids to college, to have health care, to have a pension for their old age, to have social security, to have child labor laws enacted. All of this came as a result of unions and all of you benefited from that.
This college wouldn't be here, these 49,000 students wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the work of those people, for the work of unions throughout the decades and you have to, please, recognize that. I know a lot of people in here probably don't like unions, I've heard the whole rap on them, nya-nya-nya-nya-nya. Listen, man, sure it has its flaws. Democracy has its flaws. What's the alternative? You know what the alternative is. It's happening to you, to your family, to your brothers and sisters, you're being down-sized out of existence, you're expected to work 10 to 12 hours a day, two jobs to pay the bills, to go into debt, into so much hock that you'll never be out of it. We need a new union movement in this country folks; we need a new labor movement in this country, right now! All of you! Don't you sit up there, you know, with your smug college student attitudes, thinking, well, I won't need that because I'll do mine on merit. ...
Again, I must appeal to those of you who are not part of the labor movement, who are not union members to please support unions in this area. Think about starting one where you work. The law says you can do this. It's been great talking to these Borders workers and how they're doing it.
[Organizing] has to continue because corporate America is up to a lot of no good right now and they're getting filthy, filthy rich doing it. This is pure greed folks... And I guess... the final thing I want to say ... never forget that no matter how much money they have, the chairman of General Motors, the chairman of Shands Hospital, President Lombardi, as long as it's still a democracy, they have the same number of votes that I have--one. And there's more of me and there's more of us than there are of them--never ever forget that. Get organized, get involved and participate in our democracy and let's save our country... thank you very, very much.
Michael Moore's visit to Gainesville started as an idea last May for a possible speaker for the Civic Media Center to bring to town. It turned into an amazing aggregation of interest and support, culminating in a near-capacity house of over 1,300 at the Center for Performing Arts two days before Thanksgiving. Financial support came in from small grassroots organizations like Veterans for Peace, Gainesville National Organization for Women and the North Central Florida Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America. The University of Florida came through with support including money from the Accent speakers bureau, the Board of College Councils, and the Sociology and Political Science departments. The unions of the North Central Florida Central Labor Council also kicked in along with in-kind contributions from radio stations, ROCK 104 and 97-X and a lot of sweat by the volunteers of the Civic Media Center (particularly Howard Rosenfeld) made the event a great success. Thank yous go to all those folks and to WUFT-FM and videographer Steve Robataille, who made it possible to have audio and video tapes of the event available for check out at the Civic Media Center.
Search | Archives | Calendar | Directory | About / Subscriptions |