American Factory (2019) is an engaging documentary from Netflix, that is not to be missed. It highlights the biggest problem facing Americans in recent years.
Do American really want the “tough” manufacturing jobs back in the USA? Are they ready to accept Chinese money and invite Chinese people into their workplace? Is there any hope for the American working class?
The film by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert follows the opening of a Chinese company-Fuyao’s factory in Dayton, Ohio in the site of a closed GM facility. As the film starts, we get transported inside the factory and the community, and the storytelling is natural, and personal. We can really experience the emotions of the people working there-from the ‘joy’ they felt when the plant reopened and gave jobs again to thousands in the area; to the ‘disappointment’ with the rising cultural differences between the Chinese supervisors and American workers; to the ‘bitterness’ due to clash with the American UAW union; and finally to a sense of ‘relief’ as the dust settles and everyone goes with their lives.
Though it is meant to be a film about the American point of view, it does cover how the Chinese working there feel and a good amount of time is spent showing the Fuyao’s head office and main facilities in China. We do get a sense of what motivates the Chinese, in contrast with what drives the Americans. For me, it was fascinating to see inside an American factory and a Chinese one. The differences between the two work cultures are real, but there is hope once the two sides acknowledge it and resolve to work through it.
Apart from this, we see the rising tensions in the American capitalistic model itself, between the management and the unions. As manufacturing in the USA became unviable due to rising costs, most of it went abroad to China, resulting in more job losses, a negative spiral-unfortunately, both the sides are unwilling to compromise to workout a solution-companies which manage to do it, will prosper, and others will perish.
The film ends with a stark warning of the upcoming danger with Automation and Robots which are likely to turn millions of semi-skilled labourers jobless.
Available on Netflix.