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Obamas’ “American Factory” Film Backfires, Exposes “Damning Snapshot Of American Labor Entitlement”

Peter Earle
August 27th, 2019
The American Institute for Economic Research
Comments (28)

This article was originally published by Peter Earle at The American Institue for Economic Research.

Higher Ground, the production company founded by Michelle and Barack Obama, has released the first of a planned seven-film series on Friday. American Factory chronicles the opening of a Chinese factory near Dayton, Ohio, where a GM plant closed in 2008. It’s reasonable to suppose that the point was to alarm us about the wiles of global capitalism. Oddly, the film might have the opposite effect on many viewers. It certainly did for me.

The documentary opens with a prayer on the day the plant closes as tearful workers see the last vehicle come off of the production line. A few years later, Fuyao Glass announced its intent to open a glass-production facility in the shuttered facility. One of our first glimpses is of a question and answer as American employees of the Chinese firm speak about the goals of the firm to prospective employees: they plan to employ several thousand people in all capacities, but mostly blue-collar work of the type that disappeared when the local GM plant shut down. One prospect asks if this will be a union shop. No, he is told. The plan is to be non-union.

Perhaps because of their proximity to widespread unemployment, everyone who heard that answer nods in agreement. This new factory is the only game in town, and the best news most of these out-of-work machinists and factory hands have heard in years.

Initially, most of the senior managers are Americans, but alongside the American workers are a group of Chinese workers. Also initially, most of the U.S. workers are deeply appreciative of the new opportunity. We follow one who, since the closing of the GM plan, has been reduced to living in her sister’s basement. Others have been out of work for some time, barely getting by on part-time work and odd jobs.

We don’t know how much of the documentary’s production choices were under the specific direction of the former president. Mr. Obama is sometimes astonishingly tone-deaf, as when, despite his regular trafficking with the global warming/climate change crowd — and more specifically in light of their incessant warnings about massive impending changes in sea levels and coastlines — he nevertheless purchased a $15 million estate on Martha’s Vineyard. If this is a story largely seeking to highlight differences in workplace culture, that objective is vastly overshadowed by the incredible arc that the formerly unemployed workers’ attitudes travel over a fairly short amount of time.

Initially, the woman who has been living in her sister’s basement has moved into an apartment. She extols her reacquired independence. Other employees bemoan their non-union pay and conditions but seem contented; they or friends and family have lost houses, have seen communities torn apart, and know firsthand the double impact of the so-called Great Recession and increasing competition from China. But even that wears off over time.

The work is sometimes dangerous, and the pay is lower than many of the workers have previously received, and before long thankfulness is replaced by myopia. Despite the company’s warnings, there are rumblings about unionization, and a United Automobile Workers agitator is caught walking through the private workspace with a “Union Yes” sign held aloft. The ineffectiveness of American managers to quash the unionization efforts leads to their sudden termination, and the Chinese CEO threatens to close the plant if it continues.

The same workers who, a short time before, were deeply appreciative of their unlikely bounty then begin to badmouth the company. Some are meeting secretly with union officials. Ultimately employees hold a vote, and the result is somewhat surprising.

There are two particularly telling moments in the film. In one, a Chinese manager teaches a class on how to deal with Americans, whom the Chinese line employees are training. Americans, he explains, need constant encouragement. It’s a hilarious and somewhat cringe-worthy section.

In another, an employee at a local union hall complains to a cheering crowd that while he earned $27,000 last year, his nail-polishing daughter earned $40,000. Apparently, this man is unaware that there is absolutely no prohibition against his learning to paint nails for higher compensation — and with a daughter who does so, he has ready access to a highly cost-effective apprenticeship.

Despite intense lobbying and enthusiasm, the union effort is defeated. A number of the labor organizers are fired; most just sheepishly return to their duties. In one of the last scenes, we overhear plans to automate many of the jobs at the factory, which would eliminate more positions. There’s no way of knowing whether this was the plan all along or whether the shift in workers from contentment to the intrigue was a key part of the decision-making calculus of the Chinese owners, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the collective bargaining bid accelerated automation plans. None of this is surprising, especially given Fuyao’s clearly stated position against collective bargaining from the very beginning.

It’s difficult for people to unlearn things they’ve grown up seeing, they’ve been told for decades, and for which they have apparent confirmation: the idea that union work naturally paid well and provided a generous raft of benefits was feasible in decades when the international competition was virtually nonexistent. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s owing to the need for most of the rest of the world to rebuild after World War II, the establishment of the Iron Curtain, and the spread of collectivism throughout Asia, billions of potential competitors were simply out of the global mix. The dollar was king, and all of the major financial centers were in the Western Hemisphere.

But this period was an anomaly, even if wishful thinking sought to enshrine it as an indication of intrinsic American superiority: by the ’70s and ’80s, what was true all along finally became practicable. Markets opened, information began flowing, capital aggregated, and most of all people in other parts of the world proved that they were willing and able to do the work that Americans firmly believed only we could do. And our upstart labor competitors were willing, indeed appreciative of, the opportunities that sprung up.

There’s a common refrain from labor unionists and union members: the American worker is the best in the world — better than any of his international counterparts. It’s a feel-good, self-congratulatory sentiment, but it crumbles upon even superficial consideration. Here, it’s empirically untrue: the Chinese workers alongside Fuyao’s American employees work harder, for longer hours — they’re often at the factory working on evenings, weekends, and holidays, and do so for less pay and fewer benefits. This may not make them better people, but it absolutely makes them better employees and thus better economic prospects for firms. Even they, though, have limits, and machines are more efficient and productive.

The Obamas may have intended to make a film about workplace culture clashes. However, as it turns out, American Factory is at its core a damning snapshot of American labor entitlement. In an era where painful truths about the declining relevance of blue-collar work and the potential of automation are becoming evident in many fields, it will undoubtedly remain instructive over time. The events depicted are not a fleeting glimpse of a changing past, but an indication and warning of a rapidly oncoming future.

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Author: Peter Earle
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Date: August 27th, 2019
Website: https://www.aier.org

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28 Comments...

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  1. Clown World says:

    I saw unionists dressed in the costumes of historical Communists on Mayday. There will be communist logos, banners, bumperstickers, etc, during their Labor Day bbq’s. Is labor allowed to organize, into it’s own polity, under Communism?

    “One prospect asks if this will be a union shop. No, he is told. The plan is to be non-union.”

    The white ones typically expect me to be rightist — apparently, from my looks — rather than having a qualified discussion with me about what I actually believe. So, radicals surface in the neighborhood, making heterophobic, christophobic remarks, damaging the work of independent hands, or sabotaging whatever public reputation you might have in their imagination. It’s like a gang of ethnic minorities.

    My (always unheeded) advice toward change agents (which we can well imagine having Chinese owners) is when Bezmenov says they are put against the wall, during the stage, which they call ‘normalization’. You unionists are a loose end, to your owners.

    The majority of human life, in spite of having adequate materiel and intellectual resources, still has a psychological need for an external authority figure, by which, they set their clock, a compass, telling them where to go and what to do. As such, anarchy is only a temporary stage between two administrations, neither of which literally tolerates saboteurs and rabble rousers, except against a country which they are trying to overthrow.

    If you have read this far, you should take precautions during this holiday, depending on what they have been told, over their radio programs. It’s like a hive of bees making upset noises, if their speakers are in agitated tones, and so are they.

    “a Chinese manager teaches a class on how to deal with Americans, whom the Chinese line employees are training. Americans, he explains, need constant encouragement.”

    Sometimes, to the point of ‘struggle sessions’ with their neighbors, depending on whether you offer money or meet random demands.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Struggle_session

  2. Ketchupondemand says:

    The Obamas continue to be one of the greatest frauds and con jobs the deep state has ever performed.
    Michael Leavon Robinson, former Oregon State football player, (linebacker?) now the world’s most admired woman!
    Joan Rivers, RIP.

    Tropical storm on the way here but should be no problem with winds 39-50 mph. Over 55 or 69, I get concerned.
    I’ll update after it passes, IF I have internet.
    And no one should ever buy the absolute lie that 3000 people died in PR during and after Hurricane Maria. FALSE.

  3. I live in Dayton.
    I have family that worked at this exact plant (and others) when it was a GM, Union shop.
    I have one member of the family that started waaaay back when they were Frigidaire, 40+ years ago.

    I can tell you with complete conviction that demanding 30, 40, $50 per hour, with full benefits, getting overtime at $75/hr, double, and TRIPLE time wages wasn’t enough for these people.
    All the union did was foster an adversarial relationship between the workers and management in order to keep the dues flowing.
    Eventually, the union BANKRUPTED the strike fund and the general fund by spending lavishly on “pay” for reps and union “staff”, vacations, kickbacks, whatever etc. Last trip was an all expense paid jaunt to Vegas for the union folks as I recall. They eventually merged with the CWA, a completely unrelated union so as to have access to their money.
    GM had its own problems, but the UNJUSTIFIABLY HIGH costs of staffing these factories thanks to the union contracts contributed heavily to driving them under.
    They eventually reopened production…. in China. Juarez. Russia.

    The unions stopped representing the worker back in the 50’s. Theres no need for collective bargaining anyway. The reason that 2008 Trailblazer cost $40K was labor, not innovation, technology, safety or anything else. Paying fat 60yo ben $100+/hr on 24 hour shifts of which they slept most of.

    Again, I know. Saw it firsthand.

    • Clown World says:

      I heard of pay, in the range of $76/hr for a blue collar, some years ago.

      So, when above poster tells you, $100+/hr, it is not necessarily an exaggeration.

      This is not a sustainable budget; radicals and targeted businesses are exhausted, eventually becoming low hanging fruit for the communists.

      • CW- its not. figure a base wage of $50, doubled for holiday pay, multiplied by 1.5 for overtime. That wasn’t unheard of.
        People would sleep in cardboard dumpsters rather than go home because they would miss out on the money.

        24 hour shifts.

    • Kevin2 says:

      “UNJUSTIFIABLY HIGH costs of staffing these factories thanks to the union contracts contributed heavily to driving them under.”

      United States Job Textile Worker Average Textile Worker Hourly Pay
      $13.08 / hr

      Business fled the above current wages to Asia for sub $1 / hr labor cost (and no bathroom breaks). That contributed HEAVLY to the abandoning of US manufacturing was greed enticed virtual de-factor slave labor without protective tariffs.

      • where exactly did I mention textile workers?
        My direct experience is with GM, the local IWE/CWA, and the total entitlement complex these workers have.

        “boo hoo, I only make $28/hr to sit in a room and do nothing. That guy over there makes $35.” was a common mantra,

        I’ll say it again and stand behind it: THE UNJUSTIFIABLY HIGH costs of staffing these factories thanks to the union contracts contributed heavily to driving them under.

    • Anonymous says:

      NEC;

      I still have several relatives living in nearby Kettering.

      GREED infiltrated the employees and the rest is history.

      A person doesn’t respect something that has been handed to them, but they will respect something that they had to earn.

      • Anon, your relatives know the score in Moraine then.

        Honestly, I hate to see it. People should be able to do productive labor for a living wage if they have the skills. The union overpromised, people became entitled.

        “A person doesn’t respect something that has been handed to them, but they will respect something that they had to earn.” Totally agree. My daughter an I have that exact same discussion a lot now that she’s out on her own.

  4. rellik says:

    I worked for a while as a professional shipwright( Challenger yachts early 70’s). They brought in some Chinese shipwrights
    from Hong Kong or Taiwan. These were old guys. I as a 17 year old, had lied about my age to get the job as state law said you had to be 18 to work in a factory. I learned more about hard work in one week than I had in my entire life. In a month I was working after hours doing piece work(illegal in CA during normal work hours) side by side with the Chinese. I was making twice what my father was making. I was a good shipwright. Working with the Chinese old guys made me better.
    My buddies next door the Longshoremen, lazy arses were on strike. for less money than I was making.
    My point is you can learn things from anybody, knowledge is not just an American thing. Unions aren’t your friend. If possible make sure your kids get a manual skill in addition to formal education, your kid may end up with more money than you and to me that is success as a parent.

    • Kevin2 says:

      “Unions aren’t your friend.”

      Unions helped to usher in, or outright did usher in the 40 hr workweek, 1.5 x for overtime, pensions, sick leave, workmen’s compensation and benefits. Walter Reuther was almost beaten to death in 1937 organizing that struggle.

      Johns Manville ushered in asbestosis as they knew well into the 1920s the dangers of it.

      As my father, a self employed barber for 75 years said from his observation: “If it wasn’t for unions management would stick a broom pole up your ass and make you sweep as you walked across the floor”.

      • Kevin2 says:

        Johns Manville Covered Up Asbestos Illness Data
        For decades, Johns Manville sowed confusion and buried data about the dangers of asbestos, which causes many diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer. Examples of this coverup involved doctors, the insurance industry and Manville’s own executive leadership.

        In 1933, Dr. Anthony Lanza, a full-time employee at Metropolitan Life from 1926 to 1948, advised a Manville company physician against hanging warning posters informing workers of asbestos-related health risks. Lanza cited the potential “legal situation.”

        • Kevin2 says:

          If the above was done outside of business, to knowingly, recklessly, poison your neighbor (as opposed to your mere employee) for example, it would be felony criminally illegal and upon conviction necessitate a prison term.

          • The Deplorable Renegade says:

            Kevin2, I’ll grant you that the original concept behind unions was a sound one. What gave the unions a bad name was the mafia taking control of them and all the corruption that ensued. If the unions were moral and honest I could still support them. Rellik’s points about unions outweigh yours. Sorry about that. If the unions were shut down and started all over again from scratch, who knows? Maybe they could become a good thing again but I don’t hold my breath about anything.

            • Kevin2 says:

              I was in largely independent unions that were mainly there to keep you from getting arbitrarily fired for issues like the above I posted. I’ll grant ya the UAW people were a different breed as my wife family found employment there. Regardless, a lot of the pay and benefits the non union people receive is because of a union. Management gives them relative parity for a reason. There is a similar situation post USSR collapse. Once the global threat of communist nationalization ended US business fled to get to that cheap labor.

      • Clown World says:

        Did your father employ any unionists?

        If there is a social bargain, the management is arguably parasitic.

        If there is no social bargain, use masochists to the utmost. See whether he can carry things while he sweeps; your arrangement frees both hands.

        • Kevin2 says:

          “You talking to me”?

          My Dad had clients both management and labor literally including the plant managers of both Mobil & DuPont. This “pull” got me on the caboose of the good job train as it was fleeing in the mid / late 70s. Both sides picked his brain back in the day regarding “who said what” at contract time. He was “the barber” of notoriety. He found many a man a good job too in the day when they were somewhat plentiful.

      • rellik says:

        K2,
        Don’t get me wrong about unions. I’ve been a union member most of my working life. That being said, having been in three unions, I can say the Longshoremens(ILWU)are the biggest nutcases and ripoffs of members and the public.
        The places I worked where they were non-union were places where they valued their people and generally bent over backward to keep you as an employee. Those positions were highly skilled and difficult to find workers that could meet their requirements.
        Yes if you are an idiot the management will mess with you.
        If you are not, you just go someplace else. Perhaps I’m lucky as I have always been able to go someplace else.
        Aloha.

        • Kevin2 says:

          We worked in different worlds. In the chemical and oil refining industries workers need to have the power to say, “no, that’s unsafe, we’re not doing it”. The pressure to “bend the safety procedures” because at times it may inhibit production is bad enough in a union shop. You don’t have the time to hear what I have witnessed, and stopped in three decades. Give ya one, think it’s sane to intentionally put 70 deg water on one side of a valve gate that on the other is 850 PSIG, 750 degree steam and the valve is 55 years old? Believe me you don’t need a Gold Seal nor BSME, nor ASME Inspection license to search for the correct answer. I’ll say that its possible, maybe even likely that Union Carbides catastrophe in Bhopal India may have been avoided if workers has some say.

  5. Kevin2 says:

    “A number of the labor organizers are fired; most just sheepishly return to their duties.”

    Interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights (including the freedom to join or organize labor organizations and to bargain collectively for wages or working conditions)

    Section 7 of both the Wagner Act of 1935 and retained in Taft Hartley 1947 make it illegal to fire employees who attempt to form a labor union. However this, like so many other laws that favor David are brushed aside with the inherent economic might of Goliath. The powerful, while always dominate are becoming omnipotent.

  6. Zlatko says:

    Unions built the middle class. Now we have no middle class, but we do have profitable corporations that refuse to pay American workers American wages.
    This refusal to pay American wages is exactly why Trump is president. That’s why desperate people voted for him, because they can’t get anything but a crap wage Chinese job. No thanks.
    When enough Americans are sick and tired of being ripped off, exploited and underpaid, we’ll have a violent revolution in the streets. Even CEOs understand that they have sabotaged the American worker and destroyed the middle class, and are preparing to leave the country at the first sign of trouble, economic or social. Many have bomb shelters in New Zealand.
    It is treason to outsource jobs to avoid American workers. It is treason to hire illegal aliens instead of American workers.
    Damn all traitors.

  7. A Netflix original…no one mentions hundreds of thousands left Netflix because they hired the O’assholes.
    I did and I miss Netflix.

    • Clown World says:

      You’re allowed to share the same password, between about 5 profiles, but it’s 100% occultism and sjw narratives.

      If there’s an exception, I haven’t watched that one, yet.

      I don’t pay for this Satanic, globalist brainwash, out of pocket, and never will.

  8. Clown World says:

    My feeling is that, if you have executive function, are capable of making choices, are self aware, you should practice self ownership – also, the ownership of others.

    The 99% openly dislike being the responsible decider figure or delegator in a zero sum game.

    Their self loathing work ethic will find an outlet in manager A, unionist mob boss B, abusive partner C, cult leader, crisis actor narrative, meteoric rise, tidepod or light yourself on fire challenge.

    If you are smart enough to know the difference, you will ultimately attract a following of followers, every time, without trying. They come to you, seeking absolution.

    Eurythmics -Sweet Dreams
    youtube.com/watch?v=qeMFqkcPYcg
    Some of them want to use you
    Some of them want to get used by you
    Some of them want to abuse you
    Some of them want to be abused

    Cartoon Network Shorties (Alligator Liberation)
    youtube.com/watch?v=2NecSMjqtA4
    Zoo animals prefer captivity, so resent freedom. At the end, the frog accuses activists of violating the natural order, by not eating him.

    Masochists give of themselves, willingly, and are confused when you don’t take it.

    The Riddle of Steel From Conan
    youtube.com/watch?v=wgN1sLcAQnw
    In spite of the Great Commission, no obvious efforts at proselytization are made, in this fictional universe. Further, no regulatory capture is strictly necessary. The guru has no leverage, in particular.

    imho, the banner or ideology or noble lie is besides the point, because the role play of giving and taking comes first and foremost, no matter who is the establishment or what is their stated purpose. Noone, anywhere, ever, is especially sticking to their party platform, origins myth, or ethos.