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News Brief: 2000s Zombie Neoliberalism Lives On in Obama's New Netflix Doc

Wed Jun 21 2023

Former President Barack Obama's documentary series on Netflix

00:04 - 06:52

  • Obama has a multi-film documentary deal with Netflix.
  • The series is called Working What We Do All Day.
  • It premiered a few weeks ago and has caused controversy.
  • Max Alvarez, editor-in-chief of the Real News Network and host of the Working People podcast, is interviewed in the series.
  • The series talks to working people about their lives and gets worker perspective.
  • The fundamental problems with the series are discussed, including how it frames the issue of working.
  • Obama embodies the neoliberal vision that he is trying to sell.

Critiques of Obama's documentary series

06:26 - 13:24

  • The series embodies a self-evidently bankrupt, neoliberal vision.
  • The workers' stories reveal the pain, grit, yearning, and loss of working-class people.
  • There is no politics at the grassroots level in Obama's world or in the series.
  • There are no confrontations with management or powerful policymakers or CEOs.
  • Starbucks politics is still present in 2023.
  • Obama's brand of politics presents a worldview with victims but no victimizers.
  • Victimizers are made to seem unthreatening and always off-screen.
  • The elevator scene represents the distance between the 1% and working people.
  • Obama tries to justify the series by talking about how low-wage workers never see CEOs.

Critiques of Obama's vision

13:06 - 20:45

  • Obama's series tries to justify the existence of CEOs and billionaires.
  • CEOs are legally required to maximize profits, so benevolent dictators are not a realistic solution.
  • Obama's vision is idealistic and meaningless.
  • The societal problem of our day is capital sucking all decision-making power and resources.
  • Obama's answer is that if people at the top put in more effort, we can serve shareholders and communities at the same time.
  • Other parts of the series contradict Obama's narrative.
  • Real pain, misery, and injustice are shown through heartbreaking monologues.

Highlighting the pain and suffering of workers

20:27 - 27:23

  • The series highlights the pain, misery, and unjust suffering of workers.
  • Connecting with fellow workers is essential to understanding the exploitative system.
  • Empathy is important for building a successful revolutionary movement.
  • Obama's attempt to get workers to empathize with CEOs is meaningless.
  • Working people have been telling their stories of backbreaking work and constant disrespect for years.
  • All profits generated by working people are siphoned up to the people at the top.
  • 'We' as a society do not have control over what life looks like for working people - capitalism does.

Critiques of Obama's series and politics

27:05 - 34:26

  • The first episode of Obama's series reinforces perseverance porn while avoiding the actual legacy.
  • The employers portrayed in the series are presented as lovely, ignoring the reality of working-class struggles.
  • Studs Turkle's project is different from Obama's and it's a disservice to claim that legacy.
  • Half of the episodes in the series focus on the rich and the exceedingly rich.
  • Obama erases grassroots politics and other types of politics in this series.
  • He tells a limited version of things that becomes comical to go along with.
  • Obama tries to build a collage that hits all the right talking points but leaves signs gesturing towards racism.
  • Obama does not connect the signs and signals about racism in any coherent way.

Critiques of Obama's political actions

34:07 - 40:43

  • Obama began and ended his two presidential terms with a giant middle finger to the working class.
  • Labor has not forgotten Obama's dropping of support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • The Employee Free Choice Act would have helped labor by making unionization easier.
  • Obama could have helped labor by lobbying harder for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Obama pushed for TPP, which was opposed by labor organizations.
  • Trade deals can have negative effects on workers, even if manufacturing plants don't close down.
  • Obama tried to pitch TPP as setting labor standards, but it was against labor interests.

Effects of trade deals on labor

40:26 - 47:25

  • The TPP can provide work protections for people in Vietnam, preventing job undercutting.
  • Democrats and a big chunk of Republicans have supported trade deals like the TPP.
  • The threat of offshoring puts labor on the back foot and gives bosses more leverage over workers.
  • When operations are shut down due to offshoring, workers compete for lower wages.
  • Max Alvarez is editor-in-chief of The Real News Network and host of Working People podcast.

Conclusion

47:07 - 50:47

  • Obama's documentary series on Netflix has sparked controversy.
  • Critics argue that the series embodies a bankrupt, neoliberal vision.
  • The series fails to address grassroots politics and confrontations with management.
  • Obama's attempt to get workers to empathize with CEOs is seen as meaningless.
  • Critiques also point out contradictions in Obama's narrative and his erasure of other types of politics.
  • Labor organizations have not forgotten Obama's dropping of support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Trade deals like the TPP have negative effects on labor and can lead to job undercutting.
  • Overall, critics argue that Obama's series and politics do not effectively address the struggles of working-class people.
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