American Factory is a must see movie

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

American Factory, this year's Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, is one of the best labor movies this old union guy has ever seen.

By clearly showing why workers need a union, the Netflix film reminded me of Matewan and Norma Rae. Spoiler alert: unlike in Matewan and Norma Rae, the union-busters win.

Made under the auspices of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company, American Factory opens with the closure of a big UAW GM truck plant in Moraine, Ohio. The plant's demise has devastated the blue collar Dayton suburb.

Hope returns when Cho Tak Wong, the billionaire founder and CEO of Fuyao, a Chinese company that makes auto glass, buys the hollowed out factory.

Fuyao retools and reopens the facility non-union. Many of the first hires are middle-aged ex-truck plant workers who packed UAW cards. They're just grateful to have a steady job again.

Thankfulness gives way to disillusionment. Absent a union, the employees are forced to work long hours at lot lower wages than GM paid. In addition, the GM plant was much safer. As a result, turnover and on-the-job injuries are considerably higher at Fuyao.

So workers seek to join the UAW. 

Management fiercely resists the union. The bosses make workers listen to a "union avoidance" consultant trash UAW, send spies among the workers and fire union supporters.

But the clincher comes when Cho threatens to close the plant if the workers vote for the union. Propagandized, intimidated and fearing for their jobs, the workers reject the UAW. 

The movie ends with a victorious Cho strolling through the factory listening approvingly as managers tell him how robots are eliminating jobs, thus shrinking payrolls and boosting profits.  

American Factory  is "about a fight to unionize, a struggle for common ground and a totalitarian management/ownership style that’s not the least bit alien to American workers these days, unfortunately," says a review on the Movie Nation website. "Speaking of 'aliens,' there’s a hint of science fiction in the eager way certain higher-paid American management types buy in to the ethos of their new masters. When Senator Sherrod Brown mentions unions in his speech at the grand opening, one grousing minion jokes 'I’m gonna have to kill me a senator.'"

Unions see Brown, a Democrat, as one of their staunchest allies in Washington. He was a featured speaker at last year's biennial Kentucky State AFL-CIO convention in Lexington.

Added the Movie Nation reviewer: "It’s hard to see this and not think of '1984,' of a workforce of 'proles' powerless to resist the depressed wages and thankless work offered by People’s Republicans, who have a lot in common with America’s robber barons [Donald Trump among them], and with those who enslave in the bastardized interpretation of Marx or Lenin."

President Trump doesn't come up in the movie. Cho, by the way, said he met Trump in 2016, though it's not clear if it was before or after the election. "Trump is a very smart person," he said. "His presidency will not affect Fuyao's investments in the U.S."

Cho had nothing to worry about Trump echoing Brown's support for a union at Fuyao or anywhere else. On the campaign trail, Trump, who's become the last in a long line of union-busting Republican presidents, said he preferred "right to work" states to non-RTW states like Ohio. "I fight [unions]...all the time, and I fight the unions very hard," he added.