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See This Documentary: “American Factory”

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Reader David Kristofferson recommended this documentary, which is streaming on Netflix. I regret putting any money in Reed Hastings’ coffers, but this is a very compelling program.

“American Factory” tells the story of a GM factory in Ohio that closed, putting thousands of workers out of work.

A few years after the closing, a large Chinese company named Fuyao arrives to revive the factory, dedicated now to producing glass for automobiles.  The CEO comes from China to show his dissatisfaction with the quality of American workers. The American workers are happy to have a job, but note that their pay of $12 an hour doesn’t compare with the $29 an hour they earned as GM employees.

The Chinese managers are so dissatisfied with the American workers that they bring a team of American managers to China to see how Chinese workers perform at the Fuyao factory. The Americans watch bug-eyed as workers describe their work habits: a 12-hour day; one or two days off each month. The workers line up to show their deference to the boss. They perform with precision at a company festival, praising their employer. They act like automatons.

Back home in Ohio, the American workers try to form a union. Some risk their livelihood, trying to organize as a UAW union.

I won’t tell you how the vote goes.

I will tell you that the Chinese owners fire the American managers.

There is a culture clash.

More than that, there is a depressing realization that America no longer leads the world in manufacturing.

And there is a frightening realization that the Chinese owners will eagerly replace human workers with machines to cut costs and increase efficiency.

This is a very different, very sobering view of the American future.

A possible subtitle: The Screwing of the American Working Class.


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