The Inconvenient Truth of American Factory
Higher Ground, the production company founded by Michelle and Barack Obama, has released the first of a planned seven-film series on Friday.
American Factory chronicles the opening of a Chinese factory near Dayton, Ohio, where a GM plant closed in 2008. It’s reasonable to suppose that the point was to alarm us about the wiles of global capitalism. Oddly, the film might have the opposite effect on many viewers. It certainly did for me.
The documentary opens with a prayer on the day the plant closes as tearful workers see the last vehicle come off of the production line. A few years later, Fuyao Glass announced its intent to open a glass-production facility in the shuttered facility. One of our first glimpses is of a question and answer as American employees of the Chinese firm speak about the goals of the firm to prospective employees: they plan to employ several thousand people in all capacities, but mostly blue-collar work of the type that disappeared when the local GM plant shut down. One prospect asks if this will be a union shop. No, he is told. The plan is to be non-union.
Perhaps because of their proximity to widespread unemployment, everyone who heard that answer nods in agreement. This new factory is the only game in town, and the best news most of these out-of-work machinists and factory hands have heard in years.
Initially, most of the senior managers are Americans, but alongside the American workers are a group of Chinese workers. Also initially, most of the U.S. workers are deeply appreciative of the new opportunity. We follow one who, since the closing of the GM plan, has been reduced to living in her sister’s basement. Others have been out of work for some time, barely getting by on part-time work and odd jobs.