In his classic 1936 film, "Modern Times," Charlie Chaplin has to work so fast tightening bolts in a steel factory that he finally goes crazy. In a memorable scene that has become a metaphor for labor exploitation, the Little Tramp is run through the factory's enormous gears.
For President Hugo Chavez's socialist government, the film is more than just entertainment: It's become a teaching tool. Since January, in a bid to expose the evils of "savage capitalism," the Labor Ministry has shown the Chaplin film to thousands of workers in places such as this rundown industrial suburb of Caracas.
When the screenings at factories or meeting halls end, Labor Ministry officials then take their cue, and use Chaplin's plight to spell out worker rights under occupational safety laws passed last year and now being applied. They are part of Chavez's sweeping reform agenda that he calls Socialism for the 21st Century.
Chavez's adversaries in the business sector scoff at the Chaplin film screenings as an example of the president's simplistic, outdated and decidedly business-unfriendly economic policies.
But for poultry plant worker Maldonado, Charlie Chaplin has made a difference at work.
Inspired by the film and the talk from Labor Ministry officials, he demanded gloves and soap from his employer — and got them. But the assembly line still goes too fast, he said.
Metalworker Miguel Moreno also has seen some improvement. "We have more power because we know more," he said. "They've given me earplugs for the noise, at least."
Film historian Schickel said, "Chaplin would just love that his film is still relevant to modern social conditions, that a modern-day leftist politician in Latin America would find this film to be a useful tool."
What a brilliant idea: simple AND effective.
As a child I used to love watching the old Chaplin films that we would see on TV. They left a real mark on me and provided the best commentary of the depression era. Funny how those old re-runs are never seen any more in these neo-liberal times ...