Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar are the real deal when it comes to making documentaries. They are one of Dayton Ohio’s true gems. Thoughtful, inquisitive and deliberate, they approach their stories with a very cool journalists eye. While their movies don’t enjoy great box office success (very few documentaries do) the stories they tell are infinitely more important than the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s probably why this film, “American Factory”  was the first one backed by the Obama’s new production company, Higher Ground Productions. It’s also coming to Netflix this Wednesday – which means it’s going to put Dayton Ohio back in the global spotlight for a shooting- but this one was a movie that took four years to make, vs the other shooting that took less than a minute.
This is not a movie review, nor will it contain spoilers, but coming out of the screening at the Victoria Theater tonight, I can already tell you there will be waves made by this film. The National Labor Relations Board and the UAW are probably going to have a field day with some of the revelations the film exposes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration probably won’t be bothered a bit by it. This is the reality of an editors choice in what goes in and what doesn’t.
The film will give you an amazing perspective on the effects of globalization and how different the cultures are between China and the United States. For that alone, it’s well worth watching.
The part that’s totally missing in the story is how government has meddled in the economic plight of the workers. Who won, who lost and who walked away with the easy money doesn’t get a mention.
And I have to admit, if I watched “The Last Truck”- I don’t remember a lot of it. I do have a friend who worked on it, and I do know Julia and Steve and see them walking around my neighborhood in the summers. But, the transition from shutting down “Truck and Bus” which was the subject of their first documentary at the plant, and the start of “American Factory” has a story in it’s own which remains a mystery to most.
I’m thoroughly convinced that GM decided to shut down the truck plant because they were tired of dealing with a single plant that was on a different union contract than all the rest of them. The see-saw negotiations between UAW which had every other plant, and then the IUE in Dayton, wasn’t worth their bother. That, plus we had some workers that milked Generous Motors for all they were worth. I know, I dated one who worked less than half a year every year due to one malady after another. But blaming the employees or the union is like watching a magicians distraction, while he’s switching the cards in a trick, the real culprit has been American economic policy and our poor political leadership that allows Americans to be short-changed at every turn.
Like the dirty little secret  of how this plant is the only reason that a “city” exists in Ohio- with only 6000 people- and an elected Mayor and Council, a city manager, a fire chief etc- Moraine Ohio almost ceased to exist while the plant was in limbo- and should never have existed in the first place. When will the 6000 people realize that they all shouldn’t have to pay for a city manager who makes $145K a year, that’s about $23 a head per year- to “run” their 9.52 square miles.
From NAFTA to the bailout of GM and Chrysler in the financial meltdown to the policies that allowed GM to pay into unemployment in Ohio like a savings account- and then empty out every year while they shut the plant down for changeover, the system has been rigged for corporations to profit and workers to suffer.
Fuyao Glass America isn’t any different than GM except, as the former American executive says you can’t have Fuyao without F-U. And there is no Generosity in FGA, but there is plenty in the Statehouse, who bent the taxpayers over to welcome the Chinese to town.
From incentives and tax breaks, John Kasich and his “Jobs Ohio” program threw cash at a Chinese billionaire to bring $13 an hour jobs back to a plant that used to pay $30 an hour. That’s the story that this movie didn’t tell. It also didn’t tell how the State let GM “donate” the plant to them, so they could “donate” it to Industrial Realty Group  out of California who is a vulture developer. IRG, led by Stuart Lichter, worked with JobsOhio and Moraine officials in selling Fuyao Chairman Cho Tak Wong the plant in 2013 after Lichter had scrapped the assembly line and paint facility that the tax payers had built for GM on the promise of keeping the plant open.
IRG and Lichter had done the same thing to the former Emery Air Freight facility at the Dayton Airport- where he got an asset for free and then sold it and pocketed the cash from scrapping it- and later selling it off to other developers.
If you do watch the movie, and I hope you do, just realize that while it focuses on the workers and you may be tempted to compare conditions and pay, the real story is the basic universal truth- that there are the haves and the have nots, and the elephant in the living room is how big will the gap be allowed to get between the two before the whole thing collapses or the revolution begins? Students of history know that history does repeat itself, and the while this movie is the second movie out of the same plant, the story isn’t much different.
While many Americans have to work two and three jobs to get by, and consider themselves lucky if one of those jobs includes health insurance, we may still think we’re somehow better off than the Chinese worker who works 12 hour days at one job and 6 days a week, but, if you think about it, there really isn’t much difference.
There’s a good reason the movie title is written in two languages, yet says the same thing.
Watch it, and wake up America.