economic development

Film Review: American Factory

Still from "American Factory" captured by David Sims, The Atlantic

This documentary about a factory in Ohio was produced by the Obamas, and was supposed to be about the tragedy of the loss of “American factories.” Nostalgia I could not have for a time I did not live in was supposed to be evoked, and pride in the “American standard” was supposed to be demonstrated. In short, this film was supposed to be about a lot of things, but what it actually portrayed was a lack of self awareness. After all, it is easy to make older people yearn for the salaries previously enjoyed by the trades; those of us who have already been lied to about training know that no “American” company wants to revive that lifestyle.

First and foremost, the trick of this documentary was to blame the Chinese culture, which is supposedly communist, on the deteriorating conditions of the factory. It is completely lost on the producers that no one was making the car companies move their operations overseas; that was a conscious choice to avoid paying workers in the United States what it costs to live in the United States. There were unions, protections, and salary trajectories that allowed people to live relatively stable lives, but factory owners wanted none of that. Any employee knows that it was insatiable greed that moved factories to China to exploit the workers there.

Secondly, depicting the Chinese factory owner as an evil anti-labor monster is little more than fearmongering. Xenophobia in any direction is how the myth of “American exceptionalism” is sustained; no one country has all the answers of how to create a just and fair labor market. Yes, the management was anti-union but again: no one was forcing the previous factory owners relocate to China. The hyperbole of the anti-Chinese sentiment makes this film on par with any propaganda discouraging us from effective and nonbiased international communication.

Finally, none of this would have been necessary without the hunger of American consumption. Instead of being sated, it continues to devour all the workers in the United States while it opens its gullet for laborers across the globe. All of the protections that were put in place for working in the United States were earned by the consequences of the past. By finding new managers, bosses, and factory owners who eschew those struggles while simultaneously thrusting young people towards the trades is telling. Basically, the managers, bosses and factory owners are demonstrating that they will get rich as is their entitlement, and will achieve that end by any means, even to the point of sacrificing their workers.

The only positive aspect of the film is that it is an interracial cornucopia with everyone purportedly working towards the same goal. However, demanding that the middle class suit up for unsafe working conditions, lower wages, and less autonomy is emotionally irresponsible. Nostalgia is for people who were not affected by the consequences of the past.

Leave a Reply