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Documentary asks: Can we put a fresh face on the American Dream?

One of the most thought-provoking documentaries of the year - The Business of Business (PBS, May 1 and June 22, so far airing on 30 stations at various times and dates, check local PBS program managers) - forces viewers to reexamine the American Dream in the light of the past 20 years of declining industrialization. While nobody utters the scare word ''socialism,'' some of the remedies described might be said to fall into the category of modified socialism. The documentary portrays more and more workers and communities turning to grass-roots alternatives, as large corporations abandon the industries that made them great in the first place.

Big steel comes in for the most detailed scrutiny. The problems of mounting labor costs, cheap foreign competition, antiquated equipment, lowered productivity, the lure of safer investments, are all discussed and argued in detail. Experts from all levels of labor and management and the economy are interviewed. The impact of Reaganomics on the investment strategies of basic industries is evaluated.

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It is the unemployed workers, however, who express the sharpest attitudes. ''We have to start doing something for ourselves,'' says one of the longtime unemployed steelworkers. ''We have to get totally involved in the running of the companies for which we work.''

The principal solution offered is ownership of production facilities by workers and by the communities involved on a democratic basis. This is no longer considered radical by many people. Rather it is seen as simply putting the American Dream to work in a fresh way.

''The Business of America'' was produced, written, and directed for California Newsreel by Larry Adelman, Lawrence Daressa, and Bruce Schmiechen. California Newsreel has recently been specializing in films on alternative economics and workplace innovation. ''The Willmar 8,'' a tribute to a group of female Minnesota bank tellers' efforts to unionize, was one of its films. The group describes itself as ''a social-change-oriented film production and distribution group.''

Whether or not viewers agree with its vision of community reindustrialization , ''The Business of America'' is a challenging documentary to watch, and its conclusions are compelling to consider. Neither the steel industry, the government, the workers in any foundering American industry, nor the average American citizen can afford to ignore it.

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