The new documentary on Netflix called American Factory gives a vivid picture of a story that we’re all familiar with. The auto-factory that was the economic lifeblood for Dayton, Ohio closes after the 2008 crash. This displaces about 10,000 workers in the community that depend on union wages to support their families. Almost seven years later a big Chinese corporation comes in and buys the factory to produce automobile glass in a non-union shop. Many of the newly-hired employees had worked for the old auto plant, and remember enjoying some of the benefits of being in a union. The workers soon realize that working in a non-union shop means speed ups, hazardous working conditions, no benefits, and low pay. What happens next sparks the fight to unionize the Chinese-owned American factory, and to reclaim the dignity of the factory workers.
The documentary gives insight into the lives of American and Chinese workers in the de-industrialized community, and shows the problems felt by many workers all around the world: poor working conditions, decreasing wages, and the need to take on a second job to make ends meet. Ravaged by the economic crash, many of these workers were in such dire straits that they were just happy to have a job at all.
At the same time this documentary shows the potential for organizing a fight. You see workers’ solidarity very clearly on the one hand, with the Americans including the Chinese in holidays, weekend activities and family events. But on the other hand, you see very nationalist prejudice from both cultures against each other and racist sentiments.
You also get a glimpse inside the world of the bosses; their meetings, what they say about the workers, and their intent to automate workers out of their jobs. Whether they’re Chinese or American bosses, they both have the same objective, which is profits over people. What’s clear by the end of the documentary is that Chinese and American workers all want the same thing: to make a decent life and future for themselves, and both sets of bosses are standing in the way.